Austin City Council approves new local solar project

By December 13, 2018 December 14th, 2018 Energy Storage + Smart Grid Technologies

In late 2019, ground will break on the East Blackland Solar Project, a utility-scale solar project with 144 megawatts of capacity. With the approval and support of the Austin City Council, Austin Energy has entered into a 15-year power purchase agreement with Recurrent Energy to purchase the renewable energy generated from the plant. The project brings Austin Energy’s solar capacity to nearly 966 megawatts. The project is named for the Blackland Prairie Ecoregion, which spans roughly 300 miles from the Red River in North Texas to near San Antonio.

The project is unique due to its close proximity to Austin, helping Austin Energy build up its local solar portfolio economically.

Austin Energy currently produces enough renewable power to offset 40% of the carbon emissions from the power its 475,000 customers’ consume. With this latest addition, the utility is expected to become 52% renewable in 2020, edging the utility closer to its council directed goal of 65% renewable energy by 2027.

The agreement does not require Austin Energy to invest any funds in the construction, operation, or maintenance of the project, which is expected to be operational in 2020, but does provide the utility the option to purchase the solar facility at a future date.

Austin Energy will be buying solar power from this project at a fixed price for 15-years. As a municipal entity, the solar plant will be owned by a private developer, allowing Austin Energy to enjoy the tax benefits this project will enjoy through the price of energy the developer has negotiated with the utility. As is the case with solar projects, the amount of generation will depend on the availability of the solar resource. However, the agreement is projected to have a beneficial impact on customer bills in the near term and over lifetime of the contract.

The East Blackland solar project agreement is estimated to cost an estimated $11 million per year for 15 years, for a total estimated amount of $165 million. These costs are expected to be offset by the revenue from the sale of the energy into the market.

“This purchase power agreement not only gets us closer to achieving the City’s renewable energy goals, but it’s also a good deal for our customers,” said Jackie Sargent, Austin Energy General Manager. “I am pleased that we can pursue this affordable project and continue to demonstrate economic and environmental leadership on behalf of our community.”

On August 17, 2017, the Austin City Council approved the Austin Energy Resource, Generation, and Climate Protection Plan to 2027. The updated plan includes a goal of achieving 65 percent renewable energy use by 2027. As a part of that renewable goal, installed solar capacity would increase to at least 950 MWs by 2025.