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Groups Demand Austin’s Recommitment to Fayette Coal Plant Retirement

Council must force Fayette’s retirement, advocates say, two years after Austin Energy abandoned efforts to close the plant

AUSTIN, Texas – Environmental and public health advocates today marked two years since Austin Energy broke its promise to retire its portion of the Fayette Power Project by demanding the Austin City Council use its oversight power to force the coal-burning plant’s closure.

Fayette, located about 70 miles east of Austin, is co-owned by Austin Energy and the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA). In 2014, the Austin City Council accepted a plan from Austin Energy to retire Austin’s portion of the plant by the end of 2022. But on Nov. 1, 2021, Austin Energy broke its promise when it announced it would continue to run Fayette past 2022. In the two years since, there has been little progress toward closure.

Public Citizen, the Sierra Club Lone Star Chapter, Environment Texas, Citizens’ Climate Lobby, Students Fighting Climate Change, and Green Sanctuary took their demand directly to local leaders Thursday during the Austin City Council’s regular meeting.

Kaiba White, Public Citizen Climate Policy and Outreach Specialist, said: “Every day Fayette continues to operate is a day lost in a race against time. Austin can’t do its part to tackle the worsening climate crisis while its municipal electric utility still runs a coal-burning power plant. Fossil fuels are killing the planet, and thanks to Fayette, Austin has coal on its hands.”

Luke Metzger, Environment Texas Executive Director, said: “Austin and LCRA may soon have to pay $200 million in pollution controls to Fayette to comply with federal clean air rules. Rather than do that, let’s take that money and use it to buy our way out of Fayette and quit this dirty coal plant once and for all.”

Shane Johnson, Distributed Energy Organizer for the Sierra Club Lone Star Chapter, said: “This City Council has the opportunity to be remembered as the leaders who finally shut down the last remaining coal plant used by Austin. We need to act as quickly as possible to shut down Fayette, the city’s biggest polluter, in order to meet our goals in the Climate Equity Plan and start addressing climate change as a racial and environmental justice issue. Not only is climate change extremely urgent, but we are falling desperately behind on our racial equity goals, too.”

Austin Energy is updating its Resource, Generation and Climate Protection Plan, a roadmap for the utility’s future that it will present to the City Council. Before voting on it early next year, council members should consider the following:

  • Fayette accounts for about 25% of Austin’s community-wide emissions. Shutting it down is the easiest way for the City of Austin to reduce its carbon footprint significantly and meet its climate goals.
  • Fayette contaminates local groundwater with toxic chemicals, including arsenic, cobalt, sulfate, and others.
  • The world just experienced the hottest year on record, and next year will likely be hotter. People everywhere are suffering from devastating climate-induced disasters and heat waves.
  • Because Fayette accounts for a large part of Austin Energy’s and the city’s emissions, Austin won’t meet its climate goals without retiring its portion of the facility.

Because the Austin City Council must approve the plan, city leaders can exert their financial oversight power to direct the utility to stop investing in Fayette, reach an exit agreement with the LCRA, and find a way to finance the exit cost to keep bills affordable.