Powerful accolade

Austin's ambitious solar program sparks national attention

Austin's ambitious solar program sparks national attention

SolarCity solar panel house
Austin's future in solar energy looks bright. SolarCity/Facebook

When it comes to electricity, Austin’s future is sunny. The Capital City is one of the country’s leaders in the use of solar power, and Austin Mayor Steve Adler just took home an award recognizing the city’s efforts to harness energy from the sun.

On June 8, Adler won first place among large cities in the 2018 Mayors’ Climate Protection Awards, a program sponsored by the U.S. Conference of Mayors and Walmart. The initiative honors civic leaders for their promotion of sustainable energy and protection of the climate. An independent panel of judges picked Adler from a pool of mayoral applicants.

Adler grabbed the top prize for his work on the Austin Energy Community Solar Program, a deal that offers 100 percent locally generated solar energy at a fixed price for 15 years.

Community Solar launched in 2016 with a small rooftop installation at the city-owned Palmer Events Center. This March, Austin Energy expanded the program with the opening of the La Loma Community Solar Farm, the first solar farm in Texas to enable low-income customers to buy solar power at a discounted rate. The solar farm is designed to serve 440 Austin homes, with half of them being low-income households.

“As cities are leading on climate change, Austin is focused on inclusive innovation around sustainability. We are realizing a more green future, and the Austin Energy Community Solar initiative shows the world how everyone in your community can support and benefit from renewable energy,” Adler says in a release.

Austin Energy’s general manager, Jackie Sargent, says Community Solar is “a perfect example of city leaders, the utility, and community all working together to drive value for our customers.”

Lucia Athens, chief sustainability officer for the City of Austin, says the program helps make solar available to everyone in the community, not just those who can afford rooftop installations.

“While Austin is often listed as one of the best places to live, it has also been named the city with the greatest economic divide,” Athens says. “Austin Energy’s Community Solar Program helps to ensure that the things that make Austin great are available to everyone, and that sustainability is not an elitist concept that embraces the environment but forgets equity.”

Austin Energy aims to be achieve a goal of 65 percent of its power coming from renewable sources by 2027, including solar. Furthermore, the City of Austin wants to wipe out greenhouse gas emissions in the community by 2050.