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Austin Energy Considers Wind Power Deal

Photo courtesy of Austin Energy
Austin Energy plans to seek approval from the Austin City Council to contract with wind turbine companies along the Texas coastline.

Officials at Austin Energy are studying a couple of bids that could let the utility buy wind power generated along the Texas Coast.

City Council approval by mid-September could move the utility toward negotiations for 20 or 25-year contracts with two undisclosed companies.

Current prices for wind power fall between $35-$45 per megawatt hour, compared to the current price for natural gas at $36-$44 per megawatt hour.

"That's very competitive," said Austin Energy spokesman Ed Clark. "The other good thing about these wind products is that they are along the Texas coast in the south, and the pattern of the wind production fits very well with the peak energy use of Texas and Austin."

Storage technologies, however, are still in the development phase, making renewable power less reliable than conventional energy sources.

"[Storage] is going to be an important technology that's going to be needed for the future," said Clark. "The wind can slow down, and you have to be able to provide some consistency and reliability to that resource and the way to do that is to store it."

If the plan is approved, the farms will be at full operation Jan. 1. 2013, with a maximum capacity of 291 megawatts. Actual capacity is based on that day's wind power.

The plan would cost $1.2 billion, and build 144 turbines on 31,500 acres along the coast.

The actual operation of the farms will be done by private companies, Clark said.

Right now 11 percent of Austin Energy's power comes from renewable resources, almost all of that in West Texas.

Austin Energy is contracted to start receiving power from a biomass plant and a solar company. If they also contract for the coastal wind farms, the total amount of renewable power would be raised to 26 percent, said spokesman Carlos Cordova.