Officials flip switch at Webberville Solar Project



Posted on January 6, 2012 at 7:21 PM

Updated Saturday, Jan 7 at 11:26 AM

TRAVIS COUNTY -- Basking under a Texas sun, it is a farm like no other. Outside the small town of Webberville in East Travis County, fields promise a perpetual harvest for a city growing by the day.

"Austinites want to see clean energy coming from the utilities," said Austin City Council Member Chris Riley. "This is a huge step in getting us there."

Friday, Austin leaders unveiled the largest crop of city-owned clean energy in the nation. In less than a year, crews transformed farmland into Austin's future, completing the Webberville Solar Project. The finished product puts the city on track for a third of its energy to be renewable by 2020.

"We want to be a leader worldwide in looking at renewables as a way of powering our economy," explained Riley. 

From 50 feet in the air in an Austin Energy tower, one truly gets the most perspective of what this farm will bring the people of Austin. Over the next year, the more than 120,000 solar panels promise to power more than 5,000 Austin homes.

"Five thousand homes," exclaimed Riley. "That's a break from the past where we've depended on coal and nuclear to fuel Austin homes."

Environmentalist Tom Smith says the farm couldn't come at a better time. The drought has robbed power plants of water they rely on for cooling -- a problem solved by solar.

"Solar is a great antidote," said Smith. "It's waterproof power and even when we're in the middle of drought, it's going to produce electricity with or without cooling water."

It's electricity at its most efficient. Engineer Bill Branca says panels let no light go to waste.

"They're linked together and driven by a central motor that will track the sun," explained Branda. "These will track the sun from east to west."

A contract guarantees energy for Austin over the next 25 years, just the beginning of a resource forever following a Texas sun.