You have reached your limit of free articles this month.

Enjoy unlimited access to myStatesman.com

Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks.

GREAT REASONS TO SUBSCRIBE TODAY!

  • IN-DEPTH REPORTING
  • INTERACTIVE STORYTELLING
  • NEW TOPICS & COVERAGE
  • ePAPER
X

You have read of premium articles.

Get unlimited access to all of our breaking news, in-depth coverage and bonus content- exclusively for subscribers. Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks

X

Welcome to myStatesman.com

This subscriber-only site gives you exclusive access to breaking news, in-depth coverage, exclusive interactives and bonus content.

You can read free articles of your choice a month that are only available on myStatesman.com.

Austin Energy hits pause on plans for new gas plant at Decker


Austin Energy has further delayed plans to construct a new half-billion-dollar natural gas power plant at its Decker Creek facility, citing slumping natural gas prices.

The delay, an Austin Energy executive said, likely will mean the utility will continue to operate two old, less efficient generators at Decker that the new unit was supposed to replace. It might also complicate the utility’s bid to rework its electric rates, which would increase costs for many smaller users.

“Right now is not the right time,” Elaina Ball, the utility’s interim chief operating officer, told the American-Statesman. The utility first made the disclosure in a briefing at City Hall last week. “The driver of the change is really making sure that our investments help us meet our affordability goals.”

The recent plunge in natural gas prices means a new plant wouldn’t generate the returns the utility needs to justify the investment, Ball said.

The utility now envisions construction on the new unit beginning in 2018, potentially coming online by 2022. Under the utility’s original timeline, the new generator was already supposed to be under construction and would be producing power by 2018.

The additional Decker delay comes as Austin Energy works through its biennial examination of future power generation needs, of which the new unit is a key component.

The utility is also examining potentially building smaller plants — which can be fired-up quickly to respond spikes in demand, but are more expensive to run — and further investments in such renewable energy sources as wind and solar.

“Austin Energy should take a good, hard look at the economics and whether it makes sense to build a gas plant in the long run,” said Karen Hadden, chairwoman of the Electric Utility Commission, the city’s citizen advisory board for Austin Energy. Hadden has long opposed the plans for a new plant. “I think (the delay) is encouraging.”

The new gas plant has been a major source of contention between Austin Energy and environmentalists such as Hadden, who have questioned its need.

The fight centers around what sort of generation the utility needs to build as Austin grows.

Austin Energy argues it needs the new natural gas unit at Decker to provide a source of always-on electricity that works rain or shine, known as baseline production.

Environmentalists counter that the real need is for additional generation that can be quickly switched on and off to address spikes in demand, and that the combination of wind and solar power is an effective substitute for the traditional always-on power plant — like the planned Decker unit.

The delayed retirement of the two units at Decker could reduce the costs that Austin Energy is looking to cover in the upcoming overhaul of electricity rates, consumer advocates said. The proposed rates offered earlier this year would result in increased bills for many smaller users, while cutting rates for most business customers.

Austin Energy has budgeted more than $19 million a year toward paying for the retirement of some of its existing power plants, including the two generators at Decker.

“It could certainly change some of the issues in the rate case,” said consumer advocate Lanetta Cooper, an attorney with Texas Legal Services Center, who is involved in the rate case. “If you’ve got more time, that means you don’t have to put in as much (money) every year.”


Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Politics

Trump budget may slash aid to Austin housing, elderly, flood recovery
Trump budget may slash aid to Austin housing, elderly, flood recovery

Child care help so minimum-wage parents can work and earn a paycheck. Social workers to care for elderly people who need help getting through their daily lives. After-school programs for kids who’d be left to their own devices otherwise. Housing vouchers for people who’d be on the streets. Those are the programs targeted in a 2018 budget...
Joe Straus, Dan Patrick snipe on bathroom bill, special session
Joe Straus, Dan Patrick snipe on bathroom bill, special session

Speaker Joe Straus said the House will budge no further on transgender bathroom legislation and that the Senate can take the measure the House passed Sunday, which Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick did not feel went far enough, or leave it. “The House approved language last Sunday night that required schools to make private accommodations for students who...
Budget, planning woes on the horizon for deteriorating Austin pools
Budget, planning woes on the horizon for deteriorating Austin pools

Three Austin neighborhood swimming pools will sit out the 2017 swim season for repairs, while others remain in “critical” condition and the city grapples with the future of an aquatics system that is rapidly deteriorating. Givens and Govalle pools in East Austin, and Shipe pool north of downtown, all in various stages of repair, will not...
Rough treatment of journalists in the Trump era
Rough treatment of journalists in the Trump era

For those concerned about press freedom, the first months of the Trump administration have been troubling. Journalists have been yelled at, pepper-sprayed, pinned by security and even arrested on the job. Now, one reporter has accused a Republican candidate of assault.   Joel Simon, the executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists...
Leaks — a uniquely American way of annoying the authorities
Leaks — a uniquely American way of annoying the authorities

  British leaders were infuriated this week when the name of the Manchester concert bomber was disclosed by U.S. officials, and further outraged when The New York Times ran investigators’ photographs of the bomb remnants. After Prime Minister Theresa May complained bitterly to President Donald Trump, he denounced the leaks on Thursday and...
More Stories