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Activists say Austin plan for 65 percent renewable energy isn’t enough

More than 100 people rallied at City Hall on Thursday evening to protest an Austin Energy power generation plan they think doesn’t go far enough to end the use of fossil fuels to power the city.

The plan, which has been recommended by several city commissions, increases the city’s renewable energy goal from 55 percent to 65 percent of the power generated by 2027 for the city, with a possibility of later raising that goal to 75 percent renewable.

However, dozens of people clad in green T-shirts were calling for Austin to end all fossil fuel use for generating power.

“It doesn’t go far enough,” said Bob Hendrix, one of dozens who signed up to speak against accepting the utility’s power generation plan. “I want to have more about climate justice renewables and early retirement of fossil resources.”

But an Austin Energy spokesman said that pushing to 100 percent renewable energy would cause rate hikes to electric bills for Austin Energy customers.

A presentation from the utility showed that under current renewable goals, energy rates are expected to increase up to 11 percent because renewable energy tends to cost more, Austin Energy spokesman Robert Cullick said. Pushing that renewable goal to 75 percent could increase electricity bills by 13.5 percent. The utility didn’t have an estimate for what having 100 percent renewable energy would do to residents’ electricity bills.

Austin Energy generates or buys power from a mix of sources, including vast wind farms and solar arrays in West Texas, local gas plants, a nuclear plant in South Texas and a coal power plant in La Grange. The utility has committed to beginning to shut down its portion of that coal-fired Fayette Power Project, which it jointly owns with the Lower Colorado River Authority, in 2022.

Of the total amount of electricity the city currently buys, 37 percent comes from renewable resources such as solar and wind energy, according to Austin Energy. Utility officials have said getting 100 percent renewable energy isn’t practical in the near-term, as they still need to provide power when the sun doesn’t shine or the wind doesn’t blow.

Some of the protesters were also pushing for Austin to create 100 megawatts of battery storage, which would allow the city to store power created from renewable sources until it is needed. But environmentalist Paul Robbins called the idea “ludicrous,” telling the council it would lead to astronomical costs.

The city has a 5-megawatt battery storage system that cost $6.5 million, Cullick said.

Gabriel Lasseter, a 9-year-old who is about to start fourth grade at River Oaks Elementary, was one of those who urged the council to adopt a goal of 100 percent renewable energy.

“I want my future and my children’s lives to not be hot,” Gabriel said. “No cold winters and no boiling hot summers.”

The council didn’t take any action on the power generation plan recommendation Thursday evening. With Mayor Steve Adler and Council Member Sabino “Pio” Renteria out of town, the council had decided to postpone any action to the Aug. 17 meeting.