The city of Austin has long been lauded for its green-energy bona fides. (Indeed, the city this year is marking the 20th anniversary of its green building program, the first such municipal program in the country.) Last month, the Texas capital added another feather to its eco-friendly cap: It’s now the nation’s first local government to run its operations with 100 percent renewable energy.
Shifting to green power -- wind, in Austin’s case -- will add $8.5 million in costs to the city this year. Officials estimate that that cost difference will shrink to just $3 million per year by 2021, as the prices of oil and natural gas rise. At any rate, the tradeoff is worth it, according to Mayor Lee Leffingwell. “I agree with the scientific community; global warming is a reality, and we will continue to lead American cities by maintaining our community vision,” Leffingwell said in a statement.
Austin will still purchase non-renewable power, including coal and nuclear energy, during times of the day when the wind turbines aren’t blowing. But all the money the city would normally spend on non-renewable sources will instead be directed to wind, according to the Austin American-Statesman.
Moving to a renewable portfolio was partially spurred by a decision made in late 2008, when Austin’s city-owned utility agreed to purchase power from a west Texas wind farm. The city, in turn, had hoped to convince Austinites to buy that wind power as part of its GreenChoice program. But persuading customers to make the switch has proven more difficult than the city anticipated: It has only been able to sell about 25 percent of the wind energy to customers. Now, the city will essentially make up the difference by simply buying that wind power for itself.