Best Practices Case Study: Austin Energy

Mention Austin Energy to a group of locals, Texans, or energy professionals and it’s likely you’ll get a general nod of agreement that it’s a national leader in progressive and innovative energy programs. This, in large measure, is due to the kind of community that is Austin: a community that places a high value on and protects its environment. Add to that a reputation as a community that possesses a considerable sustainable energy expertise, it’s no wonder that Austinites feel comfortable and confident that their voices shape the utility’s direction. Since the 1980’s, that direction has trended toward renewable energy.

Just five years ago, Austin’s City Council unanimously approved Austin Energy’s 10-year Strategic Plan which included a renewables portfolio standard of 20% by 2020. Strong local advocacy for renewables, including visits to Council members and solar forums, encouraged the utility to define solar goals for Austin.

A quick perusal in the DSIRE database lists no fewer than 15 efficiency and renewable energy programs at Austin Energy, including one of the nation’s most comprehensive residential and commercial energy efficiency programs; GreenChoice┬«, the nation’s top performing renewable energy program; the first and largest green building program in the U.S.; rebates for solar PV, solar thermal, residential and commercial efficiency; net metering and interconnection standards. Recently, under the direction of Austin’s City Council, the City of Austin and Austin Energy are leading Plug-In Partners, a national campaign to demonstrate to automakers that markets exist today for plug-in hybrids.

Austin, one of the first of 13 cities to be awarded a DOE Solar America Cities grant, is teaming with Austin Energy to provide a comprehensive strategy to transform the market for solar and other clean energy technologies locally and regionally, and to serve as a model for such market transformation nationally.

The City of Austin, one of the first of 13 cities to be awarded a DOE Solar America Cities grant, has teamed up with Austin Energy to provide a comprehensive strategy to transform the market for solar and other clean energy technologies locally and regionally, and to serve as a model for such market transformation nationally.

“We’re thrilled to have been selected for this designation,” said Leslie Libby, Austin Energy’s Solar Program Manager. The two-year project will include the installation of 10 3kW PV systems for local area schools, a rooftop assessment for suitable solar development, and assessment of hybrid wind/solar installations in West Texas. “With this grant,” said Libby, “we’ll be able to keep on track to reach our solar goals set out in the 2003 Strategic Plan.”

According to Gail Vittori, Co-Director of Austin’s Center for Maximum Potential, a long-standing relationship between Austinites and Austin Energy has kept Austin Energy at the front of the pack for progressive municipal utilities.

“I think when you have a municipal utility that understands its citizens own it (the utility), you’re in a better position to feel like you really have a stake in shaping your community’s future,” she said. Vittori, Co-Director of the Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems, and who, with her husband, Pliny Fisk, created Austin Energy’s now world-famous Green Building Program in 1991. “Having access to Austin’s decision makers, both at the City Council and at the utility, has helped Austin Energy maintain its reputation as a progressive municipal utility, willing and eager to hear from its citizens. We’re spoiled here.”

 

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