Despite falling energy prices, Austin’s public electric utility is planning one of the largest solar power facilities in the world.

Austin Energy would like to use 300 acres it owns outside Webberville in eastern Travis County for a solar array to be built and owned by San Francisco-based Gemini Solar Development Co. Austin Energy would pay $10 million a year for 25 years for exclusive rights to the power from the array.

Expected to open in 2010 and produce enough energy annually to power up to 5,000 homes, the array would raise the monthly electric bill an average of 60 cents for the typical customer, according to officials.

The project would be part of Austin’s plans to acquire 30% of its power from alternative sources by 2020. Last August, the City Council approved $2.3 billion to buy power from an East Texas biomass facility using a relatively unproven process of generating methane gas from decomposing wood chips and other vegetation. With the solar array and the biomass project, alternative energy would provide 18% of Austin’s power by 2012.

The Webberville site would have more than twice the generating capacity of the nation’s largest solar array, which is owned by Gemini Solar and provides power to Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada.

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