Planet Gore

Austin Solar Array Will Attract Employers . . . Maybe

It’s time for my latest installment of the wacky energy policy here in Austin, Texas (hat tip to Planet Gore reader Matt Szekeley):

The Austin City Council approved a $250 million solar array Thursday that will be among the largest in the world.

The council gave a unanimous thumbs up to a private company’s proposal to build and operate a 300-acre solar array on land near Webberville, east of Austin, and sell the power to Austin. The array is scheduled to be operating by the end of 2010.

Advocates said the project will help make Austin more eco-friendly and position the city among the nation’s leaders in the solar-power industry, possibly attracting employers.

But critics said the project is too costly, particularly in a sliding economy.

Partly to address those concerns, the council decided it will sell the array’s power to Austin customers who volunteer to buy it, instead of increasing every customer’s bill.

But that plan requires customers willing to pay significantly higher monthly bills, though the amount is not known.

If too few customers sign up to use all of the electricity, the leftover will be added to everyone’s bills, said Roger Duncan, head of Austin Energy, the city’s electric utility.

A similar “Green Choice” offering started in January. It offers wind power at a rate two to three times as high as the standard price of Austin electricity.

That program has sold about 1 percent of its available energy so far.

Blinders fastened snugly, Austin keeps “leading” on energy. Heaven forbid that we’re not the nation’s most progressive town when it comes to being green. Residents of the Texas capital get the fork over their own green in the bargain.