Austin reaches closer to goal of more renewable energy

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City council members voted unanimously Wednesday to support a contract that will bring more renewable energy to Austin.

Austin Energy currently purchases energy from five West Texas wind farms, enough to power approximately 68,000 homes per year, but only 8 to 10 percent of the company’s power comes from renewable sources. The new contract will replace other nonrenewable energy sources with two South Texas wind farms, add 200 megawatts of wind power and put Austin Energy at a 26 percent renewable energy usage rate.

“This is part of our greater campaign to chose more alternative energy,” said Matt Curtis, spokesman for Mayor Lee Leffingwell. “Austin is a green city, and we want to be a leader in green cities. We are taking strong steps to fulfill that.”

Jackie Sargent, senior vice president of power supply and market operations at Austin Energy, said an additional purchase opportunity is currently in the works that would get Austin Energy even closer to its goal of a 36-percent renewable energy rate. Sargent said the purchase came at a prime time, as the company’s previous contracts and economic incentives for developers are coming to a close.

“It’s one of those opportunities where the stars have actually aligned,” Sargent said. “We’re looking for new sources, and businesses are looking to develop.”

Sargent said the new wind power sources will prove beneficial to consumers in the future, as Austin Energy has predicted an increase in natural gas prices. She said the new energy would be priced on a fixed rate, so Austin-area customers should not see as drastic an increase in gas utility bills as other cities.

Additionally, Sargent said the wind power purchase will help ease the fear of power outages due to extreme heat because of where the wind farms are located. She said West Texas wind farms cannot produce as much power during peak energy-usage hours as those in South Texas.

“You only get wind energy when there’s wind in the area,” said Greg Efthimiou, spokesman for Duke Energy Renewables.

Efthimiou said his company recently broke ground on a wind farm approximately 120 miles south of Corpus Christi that will supply power to CPS Energy in San Antonio.

“The wind patterns in South Texas come from the gulf, where wind blows strongest and most consistently in the afternoon,” Efthimiou said.

Efthimiou added that harnessing wind power is growing in popularity, but it is not a reliable replacement for other coal-alternatives such as nuclear or fossil fuel power.

Printed on Friday, August 26, 2011 as: Two more wind farms to bring power to city.