Tag Archive: Local Solar Advisory Committee

Austin Solar Victories

Many of you probably remember our concern when Austin Energy proposed slashing the solar budget by 42% for fiscal year 2014 – which we’re now in. But public outcry and our meetings with Austin City Council members made a difference. The budget was fully restored and we can expect to have another great year for solar in Austin.  That was back in September.

Sun in fistJust yesterday, Austin City Council passed a resolution that expands the city’s commitment to development local solar.  Of our existing solar goal of 200 megawatts (MW) by 2020, half will now have to be locally sited and half of that local solar will have to be distributed systems that are owned or leased by customers.

That’s great news for local jobs, because there’s no way to outsource installation of small, local solar systems.  Someone has to be here to do a site inspection, file the paperwork with Austin Energy and actually install the system on someone’s room or in their yard.

City Council also instructed the City Manager to consider adopting the 400 MW by 2020 solar goal put forth by the Austin Local Solar Advisory Committee (LSAC) into the Generation Plan update next year.

We have Council Members Chris Riley, Laura Morrison and Bill Spelman to thank for leading this effort, but the resolution was adopted unanimously, and I know that others on the Council are eager to see solar thrive in Austin.  Send the City Council a thank you note.

With the help of the many people in Austin who are concerned about climate change, air pollution, water use, creating good local jobs, and keeping electric rates affordable, we’re going to make sure the 400 MW solar goal is included in the Generation Plan in 2014.

In the meantime, we can turn our focus to ensuring that solar owners continue to be credited a fair value for the energy they put out on the grid for the rest of us to use and that more attractive solar financing options are made available.  Better financing, options for solar leasing and a community solar program are all essential for expanding access to solar for lower and middle-income families and all of us who rent.

Solar a Shining Opportunity for Austin – Solar Goals and Programs Need Expanding

Business leaders, environmentalists and low income advocates are behind a push to get Austin to increase its solar energy goal to 400 megawatts by 2020 and expand solar programs to meet that goal.

A diverse group of community leaders appointed to the Local Solar Advisory Committee (LSAC) by City Council examined solar opportunities in Austin and unanimously recommended that we double our 2020 solar goal, creating an estimated $300 million in net economic benefits and staying well within our current affordability goals.

“The Austin Energy leadership is saying we can’t afford to do this now,” says Tom “Smitty” Smith, director of Public Citizen’s Texas office.  “But they are only looking at replacement power costs.  The value of solar is far more than replacing wholesale power.  It increases revenue for the city from off system sales of peak power we won’t need at home. Expanding solar goals will mean reduced costs for peak power, fuel, hedging, insurance, maintenance and transmission, as well as reduced water use and pollution.  The LSAC looked at all of those factors and that’s why the business, solar and environmental community all agreed that we should expand our goals now.”

2013-08-06 400MW Solar is 5.2-6 Percent of Austin Energy Demand by 2020 (sun pie graph)The LSAC report shows that expanding the solar goal to 400 MW by 2020 – which would meet 5.2-6% of Austin Energy’s electric demand – would be affordable.  Current affordability limits are set at 2% of anticipated utility revenue and the solar program would never go beyond 0.31% – likely less, according to the LSAC report and would reduce costs by 2020.  The affordable nature of the plan is what got low income advocates to support it.

Susan McDowell, executive director at Lifeworks supports the expansion of Austin’s solar goals.  “Keeping up with rising electric bills is a struggle for many working families, especially in the summer.  Solar is cheaper over the long run and can ease that pressure.  We need more solar programs geared toward working families, including those who rent.”

Instead of embracing the recommendations, Austin Energy has proposed a 42% cut to its solar rebate program for fiscal year 2014, from $7.3 million to $4.2 million.  Supporters of the LSAC recommendations are asking City Council to move in the opposite direction and expand the solar budget to $10 million dollars.

We need a solar budget large enough to meet demand. This year, Austin Energy reduced the solar rebate to avoid running out of money before the year was over.  Solar is becoming more popular and we should take advantage of that.

While the LSAC did envision an eventual reduction and end to solar rebates, the Committee recommended investing more now to establish the industry in Austin and take advantage of a 30% federal tax credit for solar installations.

“Low solar prices, coupled with the 30% federal tax credit, give us the opportunity to get more solar installed for each dollar spent than ever before,” says BJ Stanbery, CEO of Heliovolt.  “And unlike most of the other energy sources we rely on, our investment in solar feeds into our local economy.  The time to establish the Austin solar business cluster is now because the 2016 federal ITC reduction from 30% to 10% is setting the timeline for industry maturation.”

The solar industry has already created hundreds of jobs in Austin, many of them in installation.  Solar installation companies are small, locally owned business and the jobs they create can’t be outsourced.

Carey Ibrahimbegovic, president and CEO of Greenbelt solar says, “We’re working hard to bring solar to as many families and business as we can and we’re creating good local jobs as we do that.  Austin area solar companies already employ over 600 people and meeting a 400 MW solar goal will create an estimated 420 new local direct and induced jobs each year from 2013 to 2020, with an average increase in local annual payroll of over $10 million.”