By John DeFore
The city of Austin is no stranger to renewable energy. But it may be on the verge of upping the ante in terms of the power it gets from wind, eliminating some middlemen to keep its future energy as green as possible.
Last month the City Council approved a plan to lease about 17,500 acres of West Texas land that is perfectly situated for a wind farm. Under the 30-year lease, Austin Energy will pay a base annual amount of up to $150,000 for the option to erect wind turbines, with further money due based on (among other things) the size and eventual cost of any wind farm built there.
Austin Energy’s Communications Director Ed Clark cautions that all lights are not yet green: “The lease for the land is a step toward the possibility,” of a wind farm, he says — and decision-makers “haven’t taken further steps yet,” which would include establishing a partnership with builders and “assessing the economic moment.”
But the possible upside could be enough to counter recession-driven concerns. “If we own the wind farm, we expect to save significantly,” says Clark, who points out that costs would “remain constant instead of rising after a contract ends”: Currently, the utility buys its power from outside wind-farm operators in “batches” that set a price for a given number of years. Once a contract ends, the city — which has committed to a goal of getting 30% of its energy from renewables by 2020 — could be forced to pay a much higher rate.
Incidentally, for readers wondering about the necessity of infrastructure upgrades to nationwide green-power plans: Clark says that a whopping one-third of the power charge for the utility’s latest batch “is attributable to transmission congestion” that could be eased by a modernized grid.
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