AUSTIN, Texas -- President Barack Obama's administration says every year Texas power plants create as much pollution as 54 million cars.

However, Austin Energy leaders say they're ahead of the clean energy curve when it comes to the president's new air pollution goals.

The president and the EPA are targeting coal plants, and the utility plans to go carbon-free by 2025.

Austin Energy owns a third of the Fayette Power Project in La Grange, about an hour east of Austin.

It is the only coal-fired power plant in the utility's portfolio, but is used to fill in the gaps when solar and wind fall short.

The past five years have been focused on wind and solar power.

Tom "Smitty" Smith has been a key force behind that push.

"The price of solar has come down more than 80 percent in the last three years. The price of wind has been cut in half again. It's now the cheapest way to generate electricity," said Smith.

Austin Energy says it pays 16 cents a kilowatt hour for power from a solar farm near Webberville.

At the time, it sounded like a good deal, even though it was four times the price of coal and nuclear power.

However, Austin Energy's Robert Cullick says solar prices are plummeting.

"We opened the bids for this year, and they look about 4 cents a kilowatt hour. The price is dropping," said Cullick.

When temperatures reached 100 on Tuesday afternoon, the utility was still getting 87 percent of its power from nonrenewable sources such as coal, nuclear, and natural gas.

The utility says that's better than most of its peers.

"The customer of Austin Energy gets a product that is twice as renewable as the rest of the state," said Cullick. "By the end of next year, it will be three times as renewable. We are well on the path of taking advantage of the significant drops in renewable prices."

On Wednesday afternoon, environmentalists are expected to announce higher renewable energy goals for Austin Energy.

Last year, they successfully increased the utility's goal of having 35 percent of its power come from renewable energy by 2020.

Austin Energy said it plans to phase coal out of its portfolio in the next decade, but still needs to find a backup that doesn't depend on the forecast.

"What people need to realize about renewable power is it gives you electricity, weather permitting. If the sun is out and wind is blowing, you can get electricity," said Cullick.

"When you look at how rapidly our electrical system has changed in the last 15 years, this is going to be an easy transition for us all to make," said Smith.

It's a transition that comes with another 15-year timeline.

Austin Energy leaders say that should be plenty of time.

Austin also gets some of its power from a nuclear plant in South Texas.

The utility says that power does not create any carbon emissions.


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