FAQs

Proposed District Cooling Plant #3 in Downtown Austin

Why is this plant needed?

District Cooling Plant #3 (DCP3) will complete the chilled water loop on the western end of downtown to provide greater capacity, reliability, and redundancy as downtown continues to grow. The two existing plants are in the central (301 San Antonio Street) and eastern (410 Sabine Street) portions of downtown.

District cooling is an efficient and environmentally friendly way to provide chilled water to air condition buildings. District cooling chills water at night when electricity is cheaper and more available, and stores it in thermal energy storage tanks (TES).  During the daily peak electrical use times of 3 p.m. – 6 p.m. the stored thermal energy is pumped through underground pipes to the customer’s buildings.

By connecting to district cooling, building owners eliminate the need for chiller equipment on their buildings, increasing the aesthetics of their property and saving valuable real estate space downtown for other uses.

District cooling also helps achieve community goals by lowering energy use during the hottest parts of the day and emissions from energy production. In Summer 2016, Austin Energy District Cooling shifted 17.2 megawatts of electricity to off-peak times. This plant, along with the future customers associated with it, will help the program achieve the 20 megawatt shift goal as outlined in Austin Energy's Council-approved Resource and Generation Plan.

Is there no other place to put the new cooling plant?

A chiller plant is needed on the western end of downtown to boost service reliability to existing as well as new developments such as The Independent, which will be the tallest building downtown when completed. The Crescent site was deemed undevelopable for other uses due to its small, curved size, topography, physical and regulatory restrictions, and proximity to the Union Pacific Railroad.

  • In June 2012, the Austin City Council recognized the limitations of this site and amended the Seaholm Master Development agreement to designate the parcel for future chiller plant infrastructure. The 2012 Downtown Austin Plan approved by Council also listed adequate utility infrastructure as one of the top seven priorities of the plan to support downtown growth and to keep Austin’s economy strong.
  • In January 2014, the City Council rezoned the property to P (Public), the designation for a governmental, civic, public purpose or public institution use.
  • In June 2015, the City Council approved a contract for design and engineering services for the DCP3 project. The construction contract requires City Council approval.

What will this chiller plant look like?

Austin Energy hired EEA Consulting Engineers and a multi-disciplinary team of design professionals including the noted architecture firm Cotera Reed to provide engineering and design services for the project. All of the DCP3 major equipment, such as chillers and pumps, will be enclosed in a beautifully designed building that fits in with the surrounding neighborhood, and adds to the overall ambiance of the Seaholm District.

The DCP3 cooling tower structure is designed with the same architectural aesthetics.

Austin Energy has received input on the initial design from the Council-appointed Design Commission and Downtown Austin Commission. The Commission's’ feedback will be incorporated into the final design. Both the Design Commission and Downtown Commission offered conditional letters of support based on the initial design with anticipated final support when Austin Energy returns to the commissions with the completed design.

 

Cooling Plant West ViewWest View

Cooling Plant South ViewSouth View

 

Will the plant be noisy?

District Cooling Plant #3 is designed to produce no more than 70 dBA (Decibels Adjusted) at ground level at the property line when all nine cooling towers are running. The self-imposed goal of 70 dBA level is consistent with SF-5 zoning, and equates to the sound made by a neighbor’s residential air conditioner. The  sound from the proposed plant will be below 50 dBA at nearby residential balconies.

These noise levels are lower than the noise that already exists outdoors around this site during the day and night. For comparison, the existing outdoor sound levels measured at the site in the evening varied between 64 dBA and 72 dBA, depending on the day of the week. Daytime outdoor levels were as high as 87 dBA. Passing trains were measured from 88 dBA to 96 dBA.

 All of the DCP3 major equipment, such as chillers and pumps, will be enclosed in a building. The DCP3 cooling tower structure is designed with acoustical louvers on the sides, which will keep the sound below 70 dBA at the property line except for a small portion of the adjacent roof on the parking garage of the Gables Park Tower. This is a result of sound coming from the top of the cooling towers which is the same height as the top of the parking garage.  The sound level at the top of the cooling towers will be 73 dBA. Due to Capitol View Corridor height restrictions, Austin Energy cannot extend the acoustical louvers any higher than currently designed; however, the sound attenuates rapidly as it travels.

 Austin Energy is committed to mitigate noise from the plant where possible. When a temporary chiller was placed at the site, Austin Energy promised residents that it would install mufflers, insulation and other equipment to mitigate the noise. Not only did Austin Energy keep its promise, the noise from the temporary chiller when measured was undetectable due to the existing noise already around the site.

Will the construction cause noise and traffic delays?

The design team includes a constructability consultant that evaluates site access, traffic control, and other miscellaneous issues such as materials delivery and handling, construction noise, working hours, parking, and construction sequencing.

Access to the site by large vehicles delivering concrete and equipment is limited due to the surrounding bridge heights on West 2nd Street and Cesar Chavez.  A crane will be set up on site.

Temporary closures on West 2nd Street in front of the site will be required during concrete operations and equipment off-loading. Delivery vehicles will be required to either back into the site and pull out, or pull into the site and back out onto West 2nd Street. Construction traffic egress to Sandra Muraida Way on the north end of the site will be restricted to certain times of day and size of vehicles.

Residential and business access will not be impaired from North Lamar Boulevard, Cesar Chavez or Sandra Muraida Way.  Access to West 2nd Street from Walter Seaholm Drive may be impacted depending on the day’s construction activities. Full access to the Gable’s garage entrance on West 2nd Street will be maintained.

There will be temporary lane closures on West 2nd Street. All City of Austin Right-of-Way Management requirements will be followed for any lane closures and flagging operations. The project will be constructed starting from the north end of the site and progressing to the south.

Austin Energy will require the selected contractor to limit construction parking at metered spaces on West 2nd Street.

To mitigate construction noise concerns, working hours will be limited to 7 a.m. - 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. In order to reduce construction time and accommodate the access restrictions, some equipment will be assembled and delivered as prefabricated skids.  

Will this plant include Art in Public Places?

In May 2017, the Austin City Council approved an agreement with artist Beili Liu to design Art in Public Places artwork for the project. Beili Liu is a Professor of Art at the University of Texas at Austin. She was the lead visual artist for a Robert Rauschenberg Foundation Artistic Innovation and Collaboration Grant-supported public art project “Thirst” on Lady Bird Lake – often referred to as the ‘Ghost Tree.’ Liu was twice named Austin Artist of the Year in 3D media by Austin Visual Arts Association (2009) and Austin Critic's Table (2010).

Will the public have input on the design?

In addition to receiving input from citizens-based boards and commissions, Austin Energy will engage downtown neighborhood and civic groups and other downtown stakeholders for their input. The Austin City Council has final approval on design and construction.

What is the timeline for this project?

Austin Energy officials expect to finalize the construction contract for consideration by the Austin City Council in Spring 2018, and expect to complete construction in Spring 2020.

How can I stay up-to-date on this project?

You may sign up to receive periodic email updates from Austin Energy. You can also phone or email us.

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Date last reviewed or modified: 6/29/18

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