Carlos Cordova

Parking Services Supervisor John Garrett stands in front of solar panels on the Manor Garage roof Tuesday afternoon. The panels were installed in 2011 as part of a study by the Webber Energy Group, a UT mechanical engineering team researching the output of three different types of panels under the same conditions.

Photo Credit: Maria Arrellaga | Daily Texan Staff

While Austin Energy announced that it gave out more solar energy rebates to residents in 2012 than any other year, UT officials said they plan to maintain the campus’ solar panels but don’t plan to build any more.

Since 2004, Austin Energy provides solar photovoltaic rebates to residents who install panels and meet other requirements. Austin Energy spokesman Carlos Cordova said the company is looking to help customers ease into this alternative energy source.

“We want to help spur the solar energy desire in the world but to also bring the costs down,” Cordova said. “Our rebate is the lowest ever, $2 per kilowatt hour, but the desire for solar energy in Austin is at its highest ever, which has helped us achieve the high number of rebates.”

Saying he hopes to provide a clean energy future for students, Jim Walker, the University’s director of sustainability, oversaw the installation of solar paneling on the main campus and at the J.J. Pickle Research Campus in North Austin.

The J.J. Pickle Research Campus has been heralded as having the largest solar power system in Austin, consisting of two solar arrays. One is on top of a newly built carport structure and the other covers more than an acre as a larger ground-mounted system south of the Microelectronics Research Center building. By harnessing the sun’s energy, UT obtains more than 400,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity per year, according to UT Facilities Services. 

However, Walker said representatives of the University have no plans to install any more solar paneling. He said the current energy program, started in 1930, is both efficient and cost effective. Outside of solar energy, Walker said one type of fuel has powered all 400 acres of the University over the last 50 years. 

“Our [main] energy source is a monofuel burning, natural gas producing plant that produces energy that is cheaper and much more efficient than solar energy,” Walker said. “Because solar energy is still quite expensive, making the campus go solar is a harder argument to make.”

Published on January 16, 2013 as "UT elects to not expand solar energy usage".

About 2,500 West Campus residents lost power for two hours after a tree fell on a power line. Austin Energy officials said power has now been restored.

Carlos Cordova, an Austin Energy spokesman, said the tree fell on top of power lines on West Avenue near West 8th Street. Cordova said at 3:30 p.m. only 300 customers were still out of power and by 3:45 p.m. the power outage had been resolved.

“It took awhile, because we had to clear the tree out of the way,” Cordova said. “When it’s something simple, it’s usually less than an hour. A lot of times it can just be a fuse that tripped.”

Journalism sophomore Colleen Nelson, who resides in Alpha Xi Delta Sorority house on Rio Grande Street, said she noticed her sorority’s house lose power around 2 p.m.

“I went outside to see what was going on, and there were a bunch of other people outside, too,” Nelson said. “So I knew it wasn’t just us, but I knew it was West Campus in general.”

Nelson said losing power in the middle of the day in Texas is irritating.

“It’s super annoying. You don’t have any A/C, and I was worried it would be out longer than it was,” Nelson said. “It’s super hot today, and it’s just not a good situation.”

Nelson said her power came back about 45 minutes after it went out.

City facilities around Austin will soon be equipped with electric car plug-in stations, said an Austin Energy spokesman. Austin Energy partnered with California-based Coulomb Technologies, an electric vehicle infrastructure company that works with public utilities across the country to install public charging stations for electric cars. Before next summer, 100 to 200 charging stations will be installed at city facilities such as Austin City Hall and public libraries. Austin Energy Spokesman Carlos Cordova said any public utility can install a charging station for $2,500. “They would show their commitment to the environment and that they are on the leading edge of promoting electric vehicles,” he said. Although there are only about a dozen electric cars in the city now, Cordova said he expects the number to increase to about 160 next year after the launch of the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf next month. Kara Kockelman, a civil, architectural and environmental engineering professor, said Austin residents would make a good market for plug-in electric vehicles. She said that early users will provide businesses with an example to further modify the products to make them more affordable and effective. “As in any paradigm-shifting situation, timing of supporting infrastructure is critical,” Kockelman said. “Austin must roll out such charging infrastructure soon.” Having more electric vehicles on the road in Austin will improve air quality and reduce the city’s carbon footprint, Kockelman said. “We would do the world a favor in terms of greenhouse gas impacts and reduce our reliance on petroleum imports,” she said. The investment in the stations is a step in the right direction, but their effects might not be immediately noticeable in the environment, said Chandra Bhat, a civil, architectural and environmental engineering professor. The investments will be successful if government agencies monitor the adaptation behavior of households so that changes can occur without a substantial loss in the investments already made, he said. “It is important that new infrastructure in Austin is introduced in a careful, calibrated fashion so that Austin Energy can get reactions to the first few charging stations, learn from those responses and have the flexibility to design other stations in the pipeline based on that knowledge,” Bhat said.