Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Affordable Energy Resolution

Serving as Chair of the Austin Generation Resource Planning Task Force has not only been a mouthful to say, it has been a great opportunity to participate in local government and to experience first hand the importance of our community processes.

Created in March, the Task Force didn't get going until mid April.  For the next 14 weeks, we met weekly, holding two public meetings, with a final meeting on July 9th.  You can view The Plan on our web site.  But just as important as the plan are the various reports and presentations that were given to the Task Force that are also posted on the web site.

Almost immediately after the plan was published in print form, a City Council Resolution containing many of the recommendations in the plan began to get traction at Council.  It also included elements of other actions by the Electric Utility Commission and other environmental groups.  Another resolution, which included other Task Force elements dealing with efficiency and weatherization also gained support.

 Meantime, Austin Energy, the utility that was being told what to do, went nothing short of postal in its position on the Task Force Report.  Even though the Task Force Report made it clear by the endorsement of the affordability metrics adopted by Council as the first  recommendation in the report, the utility went on a scare campaign.  The second recommendation on zero carbon by 2030 was equally constrained with the same affordability language.   

Yet, the Utility continued to appear on the front pages of the local newspaper, mailing to its commercial energy customers, and speaking openly that the adoption of the main elements of the plan would be a financial disaster.  "I can tell you that replacing Decker with solar power contracts would be an economic disaster for rate payers", said the Austin Energy general manager.

This was in contradiction to his statement in March 2014 when he said that the 150 MW west Texas solar deal would have a "very small but favorable impact to the power supply adjustment."

Yet, in a rather famous evening at Austin City Council, The Affordable Energy Resolution was passed on a vote 5 to 0 with the Mayor and Council Member Spelman off the dias.

The Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club reported it this way:

Historic Affordable Clean Energy Plan Adopted 
City sets ambitious solar goal, path to zero carbon pollution from Austin Energy by 2030

    Austin, Tex. – A diverse coalition of groups representing workers, people of faith, low-income residents, clean energy supporters and environmental advocates united in their of goal of expanding affordable clean energy and protections to public health cheered the Austin City Council for adopting the Affordable Energy Resolution late Thursday evening.

    The resolution comes after years of community-led work to study Austin Energy’s portfolio and generation plan, identify opportunities to strengthen the municipal utility’s clean energy and climate commitments while meeting the needs of low-income communities and after community members demonstrated strong demand for more affordable clean energy and less pollution on a reasonable but aggressive timeline.

     The Affordable Energy Plan calls for Austin Energy to generate more than 60 percent of its power from renewable sources by 2025 and eliminate carbon pollution from its generator fleet by 2030. It directs the utility phase out the Decker gas-fired power plant by investing in 600 megawatts of solar power, enough to power more than 100,000 homes.

     Solar is now cheaper than building a new natural gas plant. Our analysis shows that 600 megawatts of solar will save Austin Energy between $12 and $33 million per year,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith of Public Citizen, a consumer watchdog group.  “We’re grateful for the strong leadership shown by Council Members Chris Riley, Mike Martinez, Kathie Tovo, Laura Morrison and Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole.”

     The landmark resolution also takes significant steps to expand local solar power.  It doubles Austin’s local solar goal to 200 megawatts, with half of that goal reserved for distributed residential and commercial solar projects. And the resolution expands access to rooftop solar projects by including solar leasing as an option for residents and businesses and by refining Austin Energy’s innovative value of solar tariff.

 I was in Mexico in the mountains when the vote came.  But since it was so late, the internet was working good enough to see it all come down.  It was a thing of beauty. And don't let any one tell you differently.  A hundred people had waited all day to speak in support  of the resolution and were now being told that they must come back the next day.  An alert Council member Martinez saw that there was no one signed up to speak against the resolution and so he made a motion to reconsider the postponement and bring the resolution up.

That motion passed over the Mayor's objection.  After some brief comments from supporters and one activist who had signed up neutral on the resolution, the resolution passed 5 to 0.

The next day there was a lot of hubbub about it all and so a reconsideration motion was made by the Mayor pro tem.  That failed 3 to 3.

Thus the first act ended.

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Thursday, July 31, 2014

America's Clean Energy Maverick

In the middle of July, I found myself headed for Calgary, Canada.  I had been invited by some Clean Energy Advocates to make a speech at their clean energy speaker series.

Calgary is in Alberta and yes, that is where the Tar Sands are.  Did you know that the so called overburden of those sands is Boreal Forest?  I didn't go see them but apparently you can see it from space anyway.

Calgary is pretty nice in July.  We had a great dinner down on the river a few blocks from the Hotel the first night I was there.  Next day, I started early with an interview on a popular radio show at 6:45.  My speech was at noon, and apparently it  sold out. And the audience was not the choir.  One person had a copy of a letter from the Chairman of the Texas PUC bemoaning how Texas wind had dropped prices so much that the market could no longer support the building of fossil fuel plants.

He didn't seem to understand that that was a good thing.

The idea of the visit was to share with Albertans how Texas, an oil  and gas state,  has become a great renewable energy state... and to lay the foundations and create a roadmap for how Alberta can do the same thing.

Here's the story as Clean Energy Canada reported it:

America's Clean Energy Maverick Comes to Alberta

To put it mildly, it’s not easy to shift something as deeply entrenched as an electricity system. You need a willing public, committed entrepreneurs, and supportive policy, which helps create the needed business case.
 But above all, you need elected leaders willing to get the ball rolling, and stick with it. Which is what they had in Texas, back in the early 1990s, according to Michael Osborne.
 “You’ve got to give credit to the leadership of politicians, of both stripes,” said the cofounder of the Texas Renewable Energy Association at “America’s Clean Energy Maverick: How and Why Texas Grabbed the Renewable Energy Bull by the Horns,” a sold-out lunch event that we hosted last week in Calgary.
 As outlined in the presentation below, Osborne shared the story of the politics and policy that have made Texas a renewable energy leader.
 Both Sides of the Aisle
More than two decades ago it was Governor Ann Richards, a Democrat, who first invited renewable energy developers to the table. She determined renewable energy had a role to play in the state and established the Sustainable Energy Development Council to advise on making it happen.
 But Texas was just getting started: the next governor (and future President), Republican George W. Bush continued to redefine Texas as not just an “oil and gas state” but an “energy state,” and when he deregulated the electricity market and put in place a Renewable Portfolio Standard.
 Bush’s successor, and the current Governor, Rick Perry—another Republican—built on the momentum by creating Competitive Renewable Energy Zones, a system of transmission lines designed to bring the state’s renewable energy bounty from all corners of the state to Houston, Dallas, and other cities.
 And this leadership has paid off.  Texas now leads the United States in wind power with 12,354MW of installed capacity, and the state has blasted through the targets set in the Renewable Portfolio Standard by a country mile (5,880 MW by 2015; with a goal of 10,000 MW by 2025). As Osborne noted, this growth hasn’t just meant a cleaner power grid, it has created 12,000 jobs in the wind sector and 4,000 jobs in the solar sector—and Texas shows no signs of slowing down.
 Solar is the New Wind
The most recent Electric Reliability Council of Texas’s (ERCOT) Long Term System Assessment, a biennial report submitted to the Texas Legislature on “the need for increased transmission and generation capacity throughout the state of Texas,” found that—alongside natural gas—about 17,000 MWs of wind and 10,000 MW of solar power would be built in future years.
 As Osborne said, “solar is the new wind”, and with plummeting prices it seems likely that photovoltaics will continue to surpass wind in global energy investment, as the sector did for the first time in 2013.
 From the Calgary luncheon to the government briefings we had in Edmonton, Michael Osborne proved open and insightful about his state’s accomplishments, and his perspective on how Alberta could similarly reap the benefits of its renewable energy bounty. 

The next day we worked the capitol in Edmonton, we worked the press, the opposition, and the Minister of Energy.

I have to tip my hat to the folks at Clean Energy Canada.

They work hard and they work smart.

Alberta certainly is not going green,

but it just might become a little less Brown.


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Monday, June 30, 2014

The Future is not what it used to be

Early in April, I was appointed by the City Council of my town to the Generation Resource Planning Task Force. We met every week for 14 weeks and are about to publish our report.

Here is a little bit of it.


Austin Energy is one of the premier electric utilities in the country.  It is known for its leadership in energy efficiency, renewables, and green building.  By reaching the 35%  renewable energy goal  by 2016, and by being on track to reach our 1600 MW efficiency goal on schedule by 2020, it is a leader in clean, affordable, and reliable energy.

But these are demanding, challenging times for the Electric Utility Industry and for Austin Energy.

Just last month in Barrons, they reported that “Barclays has downgraded the entire electric sector of the US high-grade bond market, largely over evidence that solar and other disruptive energy technologies are proving to be increasingly viable competition.

They are not the first people to say this. The former Duke Energy CEO says he'd want to work in solar if he was starting out today. Some utilities are making decisive moves away from fossil fuels, and financial giants ranging from Norway's sovereign wealth fund to the Bank of England are hearing murmerings about a potential "carbon bubble".

As Barclay's credit strategy team emphasizes, this is less about solar alone, and more about a confluence of technologies—most notably solar and battery storage combined—which have the potential to fundamentally reshape how energy is produced, distributed and used (or not used):

“In the 100+ year history of the electric utility industry, there has never before been a truly cost-competitive substitute available for grid power. We believe that solar + storage could reconfigure the organization and regulation of the electric power business over the coming decade. We see near-term risks to credit from regulators and utilities falling behind the solar + storage adoption curve and long-term risks from a comprehensive re-imagining of the role utilities play in providing electric power.”

In a world where some of the utilities' most profitable corporate customers—from Apple to Ikea to Mars—are investing massively in their own electricity generation capacity (and imposing carbon prices on themselves); where smart home technology promises to cut bills, even for those folks who can't be bothered in programming their thermostat; where LEDs are becoming so cheap they are a no-brainer, even for the anti-environmental crowd; where solar prices keep dropping dramatically and battery-storage innovation is just ramping up, there's good reason for investors to consider alternative options to traditionally "safe" investment in utilities.”

The marker for a safe investment or bond rating is moving away from the former conventional wisdom.

Just as denial of climate science does not change the physics of climate change, denial of the coming reality where demand response and zero energy structures begin to weather away growth, will not change the reality of coming reduced profits.

Austin Energy must face these challenges and see the opportunities that reside within them.

As the transportation sector becomes more and more fueled by the product that AE sells, there will be opportunities that fall outside of the traditional utility model. As distributed solar penetration moves from 3,000 structures to 100,000 structures, and panels become roof toppings, building siding, and fenestration, there will be opportunities for the utility to provide service and/or capital.

Some of these new opportunities will require regulatory or statutory fixes or  third party workarounds.

Austin and its citizens deserve a community utility that can meet the challenges of the future with intelligence and creativity.

The  Austin Generation Resource Planning Task Force offers this report to the City Council and the Citizens of Austin in that spirit.

As Paul Valery, the French poet and philosopher said in his 1937 essay “Notre Destin et Les Lettres”,

“The future is not what it used to be.”


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Saturday, May 31, 2014

Birthing a Solar Age

Back in April, a friend and I held a fund raiser for Peter Sinclair of the Climate Crock of the Week series.  Peter is one of the best communicators around when it comes to Climate Change. While Peter was here, he did some interviews with Roger Duncan, myself, and a few other folks.

He put this together and it's pretty good.

Nice to be in such good company.


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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Dymaxion World

Someone in the energy business asked me not so long ago what I think my most important contribution to the energy conversation is.

Was it the fact that I realized early on that Wind Power would be the first renewable energy other than hydropower and biomass to truly become competitive?  And therefore was one of the first persons anywhere to actually sell wind power to a utility, much like an oil and gas producer sells his product into the market?

Or, was it the fact that I co-founded the Texas Renewable Energy Association and successfully lobbied the right leaning Texas government to understand that Renewable Energy is just one more form of energy that should be employed by that great energy state, ultimately making Texas the greatest wind state in the country.

Or, was it the subsequent development of the Texas Competitive Renewable Energy Zones that provide the electric super highways that move renewable energy from the west, where much of the wind and sun is, to the I 35 Corridor where the cities, the people, and the load is?

Or was it my time working locally to envision what a long term sustainable energy plan for the City of Austin might look like, ultimately getting our community and the seventh largest public power company in the country to 35% renewable energy by the end of next year, four years early and without rate shock.

Or during this time, was it my efforts blogging and imagining the Plug in Partners campaign that ultimately ended up with almost every major car manufacturer deciding to produce plug in vehicles that can run on the mix of wind and solar and other resources that make up our utility energy supply.

But my answer to my friend and energy executive was this....

The Unified Energy Grid

You see, in today's world we have the stationary energy grid which is our electric system.  And in this system,  large utilities produce and sell energy to their customers and they send them a bill for it.

And in the world of transportation, almost all energy comes from oil.  Sure, there are electric subways and the like, but most of the energy comes from oil.

In that kind of system, you have more stranded horsepower sitting in the parking lot of a football game than the electric utility has in all of its coal, nuclear, gas, and renewable power plants.

In the Unified Energy Grid, utilities still sell their product to their customers but the customers also sell product back to the utility.  And instead of the transportation industry running exclusively on oil, it begins to slowly become transformed by electric drive cars and trucks that connect not only to the utility, but also to the dwellings which are also energy producers.  And when the time arrives, those battery powered vehicles can provide energy and voltage support to the utility on the occasional peak load demand day.  Moreover,  larger plug in vehicles with on board generators can provide critical support and community resilience in times of storm outages.

This triangle of generation, load, and transportation, each feeding to each other, each supporting each other, is then surrounded by a circle which stands for intelligence.  The Unified Energy Grid is then made complete with smart grids, smart roads, smart buildings with smart appliances, and smart cars.

And this grid is further supported by smart policies at the community and national level that foster and implement what R Buckminster Fuller called a Dymaxion World, which is the use of technology and resources to maximum advantage with a minimum of energy and materials.

Well, starting about three months ago, I completed this triangle in my own life.  Although almost all of my friends had Volts or Leafs years ago, I was still driving my Impala.  It made the drive to my mountain home in Mexico very well, its 18 inch wheels and long wheel base making the final ascent to the top of the mountain on that historic cobblestone road a breeze compared to almost any other vehicle.

Now I have GM's fancy Volt....and its pretty cool.  One of the important facets of the plug-in vehicle that we imagined at AE was that it is a good imbodiment of the 80/20 rule.  Why design an urban electric car to go 200 or 300 miles, when 80% of daily trips are under 40?  Why not design an electric fuel vehicle that goes 40 miles and let a small efficient generator take over when you need to take a highway trip?

Plus, with only 16 or so Kwhs to charge to get you that 40 miles, you can do it on a 120 volt circuit at 12 amps and be fully charged that next day.  That way, the utility company can charge thousands of such vehicles with no infrastructure issues and you the homeowner don't have to bring in an electrician to do it.

And that's what I do.

And after three months, I have used about 4 gallons of gas. And since the 9 gallon tank was full when I got the ELR, I have not purchased gas since I got the car.

I'm probably making this up, but I think my health is better not breathing in a couple of hundred thousand volatile organic compound molecules every week as I don't fill up my car with gas.

And if we all stopped doing it, the health of our community

and the earth itself would begin to heal.

In a Dymaxion World,

We can live unified, intelligent, thoughtful lives

without drowning ourselves.

And by the way Climate Deniers,

Carbon dioxide is not the elixir of life.

THAT would be water.

And too much water kills as sure as fire.

Just ask Noah.



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Monday, March 31, 2014

Think About It

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has issued several papers in the last few weeks. One is from working group II and the other from working group III.  Of all the sobering news within them, one bright light is this:

IPCC climate change report: averting catastrophe is eminently affordable  
The Guardian  by David Carrington 
Landmark UN analysis concludes global roll-out of clean energy would shave only a tiny fraction off economic growth

Catastrophic climate change can be averted without sacrificing living standards according to a UN report, which concludes that the transformation required to a world of clean energy is eminently affordable.

It doesn’t cost the world to save the planet,” said economist Professor Ottmar Edenhofer, who led the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) team.

The cheapest and least risky route to dealing with global warming is to abandon all dirty fossil fuels in coming decades, the report found. Gas – including that from the global fracking boom – could be important during the transition, Edenhofer said, but only if it replaced coal burning.

The authoritative report, produced by 1,250 international experts and approved by 194 governments, dismisses fears that slashing carbon emissions would wreck the world economy. It is the final part of a trilogy that has already shown that climate change is “unequivocally” caused by humans and that, unchecked, it poses a grave threat to people and could lead to wars and mass migration.

Diverting hundred of billions of dollars from fossil fuels into renewable energy and cutting energy waste would shave just 0.06% off expected annual economic growth rates of 1.3%-3%, the IPCC report concluded.

The report is clear: the more you wait, the more it will cost [and] the more difficult it will become,” said EU commissioner Connie Hedegaard. The US secretary of state, John Kerry, said: “This report is a wake-up call about global economic opportunity we can seize today as we lead on climate change.”

The UK’s energy and climate secretary, Ed Davey, said: “The [report shows] the tools we need to tackle climate change are available, but international efforts need to significantly increase.” clip

It is actually affordable to do it and people are not going to have to sacrifice their aspirations about improved standards of living,” said Professor Jim Skea, an energy expert at Imperial College London and co-chair of the IPCC report team. “It is not a hair shirt change of lifestyle at all that is being envisaged and there is space for poorer countries to develop too,” Skea told the Guardian.

Nonetheless, to avoid the worst impacts of climate change at the lowest cost, the report envisages an energy revolution ending centuries of dominance by fossil fuels – which will require significant political and commercial change. On Thursday, Archbishop Desmond Tutu called for an anti-apartheid style campaign against ­fossil fuel companies, which he blames for the “injustice” of climate change."  more

In Austin, Texas, Austin Energy is poised such that by the end of next year, 1 in 3 Kwhs used by the customers of the 8th largest public utility in the country will be renewable.  And when  you include 15 years of efficiency programs, almost 50 % of the energy is either renewable or efficiency.

And in presenting the most recent purchases of windpower and solar, the utility states that the purchases will actually reduce costs.

As reported by Renewable Energy World:

"The Austin, Texas, City Council approved a wind power contract Feb. 27 that enables Austin Energy to achieve its goal of delivering 35 percent of all of its electricity from renewable sources four years ahead of its goal, the utility said in a news release. 

The contract with Lincoln Renewable Energy calls for Austin Energy to buy up to 300 MW of wind power for 18 years for $31 million a year. The price for the wind power is in the $26-to-$36/MWh price range, making it the least expensive wind purchase Austin Energy has ever entered into since it began contracting for wind power in the late 1990s.

The price is also lower than the $32/MWh average cost for all power in the Electric Reliability Council of Texas in 2013 and will not increase customer bills, the utility said.

And within a few weeks of that purchase, Austin Energy announced a 150 MW SOLAR Deal:

"Texas utility Austin Energy is going to be paying 5 cents per kilowatt-hour for solar power, and it could mean lower customer rates.

City-owned Austin Energy is about to sign a 25-year PPA with Sun Edison for 150 megawatts of solar power at "just below" 5 cents per kilowatt-hour. The power will come from two West Texas solar facilities, according to reports in the Austin American-Statesman. According to reports, around 30 proposals were at prices near SunEdison’s.

Austin Energy has suggested that the PV deal will slightly lower rates for customers." Greentech

So based on these most recent purchases, the UN Report is now dated.

Moving to protect the planet now through large scale deployment of well orchestrated renewable energy plants will actually save money.

So, as the fossil fuel commercials say,

Think about it.


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Here’s a milestone to mark. Solar power is apparently going to be sold to Austin Energy for a tiny bit less than 5¢/kWh under a new 25-year power purchase agreement (PPA) with SunEdison. Austin Energy says the deal will even lower electric rates a bit.

Here’s a milestone to mark. Solar power is apparently going to be sold to Austin Energy for a tiny bit less than 5¢/kWh under a new 25-year power purchase agreement (PPA) with SunEdison. Austin Energy says the deal will even lower electric rates a bit.

Here’s a milestone to mark. Solar power is apparently going to be sold to Austin Energy for a tiny bit less than 5¢/kWh under a new 25-year power purchase agreement (PPA) with SunEdison. Austin Energy says the deal will even lower electric rates a bit.

Here’s a milestone to mark. Solar power is apparently going to be sold to Austin Energy for a tiny bit less than 5¢/kWh under a new 25-year power purchase agreement (PPA) with SunEdison. Austin Energy says the deal will even lower electric rates a bit.
It’s from no small project either. It’s from two solar power plants totaling 150-megawatts of capacity — a 350,000-panel, 100-megawatt facility; and a 150,000-panel, 50-megawatt facility nearby.
Oh, by the way, this wasn’t the only proposal Austin Energy received. It beat out about 30 other solar power proposals. Needless to say, competition is a brewin’ in Texas!
“Austin Energy is poised to sign what could be the world’s cheapest solar-power deal,” Marty Toohey of wrote.

Here’s a milestone to mark. Solar power is apparently going to be sold to Austin Energy for a tiny bit less than 5¢/kWh under a new 25-year power purchase agreement (PPA) with SunEdison. Austin Energy says the deal will even lower electric rates a bit.
It’s from no small project either. It’s from two solar power plants totaling 150-megawatts of capacity — a 350,000-panel, 100-megawatt facility; and a 150,000-panel, 50-megawatt facility nearby.
Oh, by the way, this wasn’t the only proposal Austin Energy received. It beat out about 30 other solar power proposals. Needless to say, competition is a brewin’ in Texas!
“Austin Energy is poised to sign what could be the world’s cheapest solar-power deal,” Marty Toohey of wrote.


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Thursday, February 27, 2014

Moving On

I'm going to get a Distinguished Service Award from the Mayor Pro Tem today.

I will probably say something like this:

Thank you Mayor Pro Tem.

And thank you Council

I am deeply honored and moved by your kindness.

As Mark Twain said, It is better to deserve honors and not have them than to have them and not deserve them.

I like this better. For In this case a lot of folks deserve this honor.

For what we have achieved at Austin Energy over the last dozen or so years is truly remarkable.  Achieving our renewable goals of 35% five years early, without rate shock is something we can all be proud of.

I thank Manager Garza, Manager Duncan, and our current Manager Larry Weis for their leadership in this regard.  I’m grateful to City Manager Ott and I applaud the Council.  Mayor Wynn and Mayor Leffingwell’s support have been critical.

And I thank the Environmentalists and the Consumeristas who have helped keep our eyes on the prize. And of course I thank and credit all my colleagues at Austin Energy who have worked to make much of our climate protection plan a reality. 

And of course,  I love the support that I get from my partner Dr. Dana Sprute, and the inspiration that I get from my son and grandson, Solomon Osborne and Alexander Osborne.

I love this Town. 

I love the people, our spirit, and our weirdness.

Even it that means we have Leslies and Ronny Reeferseeds.

There is always more work to do, more late night hearings, more controversy, and I look forward to playing whatever role I can in furthering a future that my grandson will thank us all for.

Thank you and thanks to all of my friends and colleagues who have joined us here today.  And We’ll head somewhere from here… so stay tuned.

Last week a reporter published this in our influential local city politics newsletter:

February 11, 2014
Renewable energy pioneer retires from Austin Energy
By Bill McCann

Michael Osborne, long-time entrepreneur, author, and renewable-energy pioneer in Texas, is turning another page in his storied career.

Over the past four decades, Osborne has built energy-friendly homes; developed the first wind farm in Texas; helped form the Texas Renewable Energy Industries Association, marketed solar and wind equipment around the state, and found time to write four books.

Now 64, his long gray hair still sporting a ponytail, Osborne announced he is retiring this month from Austin Energy, where he has played a key role in the utility’s nationally recognized renewable-energy efforts over the past 12 years. Actually, Osborne doesn’t care for the word “retire.” He prefers to call it moving on to the next phase of his life. He plans to write another book or two and stay involved with two of his passions, renewable energy and climate change.

“I think I’m leaving at a good time as Austin Energy is close to achieving the renewable energy goals that the City Council assigned to us,” Osborne said. “When you are getting to be 65, you don’t think about 15-year projects any more.”

He was referring to successful efforts in recent years to lock in long-term agreements for Austin Energy to purchase renewable energy, mainly wind power from West and South Texas.  Most recently he has been working on a deal for the utility to purchase energy from a planned solar plant at a price he said could be a “game-changer” for solar power in Texas. The project is expected to be announced this spring.

“Few of the most significant policy and business developments that have moved the marker forward for renewable energy in Texas didn’t have Michael Osborne’s hand in them,” said Russel Smith, executive director of the Texas Renewable Energy Industries Association. “In the man-made world things don’t happen unless someone first imagines they can. When stuck in ‘same old, same old’ we’re told you’ve got to think outside the box. I’m not sure Michael was ever in the box.”

Osborne believes his biggest challenge, and accomplishment, has been helping to get Austin Energy in position to achieve the Council goal to obtain 35 percent of the city’s energy needs with renewables by 2020. He is confident the utility will meet that goal by the end of next year, with five years to spare.

“We are going to meet the goal, not only without causing rate shock, but being able to reduce energy costs,” Osborne said. “The timing had been perfect. We bought wind in a buyer’s market and now we may have the same opportunity with solar.”

Currently, Austin Energy has contracts calling for the purchase up to 850 megawatts of wind energy,with another 400 megawatts scheduled to go on line in the next two years. The utility also has agreements to purchase up to 30 megawatts of solar from a privately owned plant near Webberville, and purchase 100 megawatts from a plant that burns wood wastes in East Texas, Osborne said. In addition, local homes and businesses have installed another 20 megawatts of rooftop solar units.

“Right now close to 25 percent of the energy that Austin Energy provides (to its customers) all the time is generated from renewable sources and some days it’s over 50 percent,” Osborne said. “We have come a long way.”

Born in Amarillo, Osborne played in two rock-and-roll bands that entertained the local youth center’s Friday night dances when he was in junior high and high school. He played guitar, bass guitar and piano.

At The University of Texas at Austin, Osborne majored in aerospace engineering, then business (marketing) until he walked away one semester short of a degree after a business school dean denied him project credit for an advertising agency he had started on the side. After he withdrew from school, his agency focused on marketing such music venues as the long-gone Armadillo World Headquarters, Castle Creek and Mother Earth in the early 1970s. He also promoted a singer named Willie Nelson.

Then, influenced by architect, inventor and philosopher Buckminster Fuller, who believed in the importance of renewable energy, Osborne decided to take his marketing skills in another direction. He turned to the energy business in the late ‘70s, building passive solar homes and selling energy-saving wood stoves. In 1981, he developed the first wind energy project that sold energy to a utility in Texas. The project, built near Pampa in the Texas Panhandle, consisted of five 25-kilowatt wind turbines.

In 1983, he signed on as the first distributor in Texas for Solarex, a now-defunct maker of solar cells used then as power sources for such things as ranch gates, railroad signals and other places where stringing power lines was difficult or expensive. In the 90s, Osborne began focusing on wind energy. He ran the Texas operations for Zond Energy, which is now part of General Electric, the largest U.S. wind turbine maker.

In 2002 Osborne was hired on at Austin Energy, initially under a federal-state grant to write a long-term comprehensive energy plan.  The plan, called Silver in the Mine, was published in 2003. Subsequently he worked with former general manager Roger Duncan in developing a successful national campaign to get the automakers to support mass production of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles.

For the past five years Osborne has had the title of special assistant to the general manager for energy development, with a number of responsibilities including meeting the 35 percent renewable energy goal.

“Michael Osborne is the primary force behind Austin Energy reaching its 35 percent renewable energy goal ahead of schedule,” Duncan said. “His vision and knowledge of wind and solar generation has been invaluable to AE. Austin owes him for our national leadership in renewables.”

Osborne’s current boss, Austin Energy General Manager Larry Weis, praised his work as well.

“Michael is a real visionary, a dreamer with great ideas,” Weis said. “He has been a big help to me, especially when I first got here. He has been a good counselor and confidante, and a good friend.”

What’s next?  One of the things Osborne is considering is writing a book on climate change and the growing need to unite the public to force development of a plan to deal with the issue.

‘People who deny climate change fail to recognize the combined statements of all of the national academies of science of every nation on Earth that it is real,” Osborne said. “Arguments by the deniers will not change the physics.

I think I'm most happy with the last line.  I've been practicing that for a long time and used to say that "opinions  won't change the science."


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