Saturday, February 16, 2008

Wind Energy for Austin

Today's Austin American Statesman "Metro & State" Section included an article about Austin Energy's interest in cultivating its own wind farm in Pecos County in order to ensure permanent access to wind power (do you really have to go that far to experience consistent winds?).

According to Micheal McClusky, the Deputy General Manager at Austin Energy, owning the wind turbines as opposed to contracting for power would "guarantee a supply of wind power into the future and give the utility more control over cost and other market factors, ... "

Kate Alexander, staff writer for the Statesman, states that the change in approach is being driven, in part, by the rising cost of the power purchase agreements that Austin Energy has used to secure wind power. But the price (per kilowatt-hour) is being driven up by increasing construction costs and demand for the wind power.

The article raises concerns that Austin Energy has no experience with developing wind power on its own, and that they do not have access to federal incentives that private wind power developers have access to. According to Ryan Wiser of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California, the ideal approach will be for Austin Energy to partner with an experienced wind developer to take advantage of incentives and low cost financing.

As a customer to Austin Energy, I am delighted that I have had the option to participate in the GreenChoice program, and hope that Austin Energy can get these decisions right; fundamentally, Austin Energy must decide whether being a customer to the wind power generators or being one themselves is the right thing to do. It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the coming months as the "extensive public process to get community input into future power options" is implemented.

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