March 8, 2021 Presentation to Joint Meeting of Electric Utility Commission and Resource Management Commission
I am Paul Robbins. I am an environmentalist, consumer advocate, and observer of Austin Energy since 1977.
Before my main comments on the outages, I want to ask the Chair of the Resource Management Commission to post me on the next agenda to discuss the utility’s broken Customer Assistance Program. Money has been given to the wrong people or the wrong purpose for far too long.
My purpose in speaking though regards my observations about the recent power outages and how they affect Austin going forward. Please refer to the chart in the back-up material on page 9. It shows Austin Energy power generation by fuel during the outage.
I have asked for more specific information by power plant as opposed to power source. But since the utility has a habit of spiking my requests, I am not sure that I will get this information in a timely or graceful manner.
This chart is instructive about what is stated and not stated. It does not show what the power use should have been if electricity were not curtailed. It does not show which units were down for maintenance or lack of winterization. Still, given that most of the power came from dispatchable sources and not renewables, it prompts enough caution in me to suggest that until more is known, the planned retirements of Decker gas plant and Fayette coal plant be temporarily deferred.
Had this disaster occurred two years from now after these plants are scheduled for retirement, Austin would be in a precarious economic position, and the public would be blaming the people who shut these plants down.
This speaks to the subject that I have repeatedly stated over the last 7 years. We have no dispatchable power that is renewable. This leads to my second point. Austin Energy, along with other utilities, cities, and non-profits in Texas, needs to start investing in the development of dispatchable renewable energy.
Austin Energy is vehemently opposed to this. Two of its executives have told me to my face that it is not the utility’s place to develop technology. I disagree strongly.
If you want a grid that is free of dirty fossil and fissile power, you are going to need dispatchable alternatives, and the utility will need to take a very active and aggressive role.