Austin might be known as a music Mecca—home of Austin City Limits and SXSW—but if groups like Solar Austin and its compadres have their way, the city will become a solar Mecca as well. The groups are pushing for the municipally owned utility, Austin Energy, to add in 300 megawatts of solar by 2020, allowing citizens to invest into such development. But the utility isn’t set on the idea.
Austin Energy is considering adding in more natural gas generation at an existing plant to meet customers’ needs. It’s also said that adding in that much solar over such a short time period is not affordable or realistic, according to The Statesman.
“What we want are programs that customers can participate in and see the benefits,” said Trevor Lovell, an official with Solar Austin.
The group and its partners, which include project developers, installers and nonprofits, want Austin and Austin Energy to develop programs allowing the utility’s customers to invest in solar in such a way that the investment is returned to the investors and doesn’t just become part of Austin Energy’s revenue stream.
Such solar installations could be any number of projects, from rooftop solar to community solar gardens, or even larger.
“Those are technologies that are fine. We’re just making sure customers have an opportunity to invest in those resources and receive the return,” Lovell said.
Offering residents a chance to invest in solar would be different than allowing Austin Energy to simply establish a rate increase.
“Our opinion is those investments will do well as energy prices continue to raise in the state,” Lovell said. “You can realize a long-term return that is very positive.”
Lovell likened such a program to the early days of Austin Energy’s GreenChoice wind program, when he bought into it nearly a decade ago.
“Now I’m paying a great rate,” he said.
The rate he’s paying electricity is now lower than many other people’s, he said. But in subsequent iterations, the utility changed the program adding in extra service charges.
There aren’t really any solar third-party ownership options for residents or businesses in the region, according to Lovell.
“There’s no real clarity about whether doing something like that opens Austin Energy to competition,” he said. “There’s interest in trying to make those things work. The utility has shown less interest in making that work.”
Although, implementing such a strategy could help increase the amount of solar installations in the area quickly.
The organization will host a discussion with solar experts and Austin Energy on Feb. 22.