San Antonio’s public utility, CPS Energy, faced blowback from city leaders and environmental groups Thursday on its newly released strategic power plan that takes decades to fully transition to renewable sources of energy.
“A lot of folks felt blindsided by this,” said Russell Seal, a conservation committee co-chair for the Sierra Club’s Alamo Group, outside of City Council chambers before the Thursday meeting with CPS. Seal and a handful of other people showed up to protest the proposal.
The meeting — a regularly scheduled presentation by CPS — came just days after the utility revealed some of its future power-generation planning that assumes the city will continue to rely on coal and natural gas through at least 2040.
Under the “flexible path” plan released Tuesday, solar, wind and other renewable energy would account for half of San Antonio’s power sources by 2040. Gas and coal-fired plants would make up 20 percent of the utility’s power generation by then, with 16 percent coming from a new “flex gen” idea that counts on future technology and power storage.
The utility, which is owned by the city, currently gets roughly 22 percent of its energy from renewable sources, 45 percent from natural gas, 18 percent from coal and 14 percent from nuclear.
“It’s absurd to think that we should have any coal in our energy mix anywhere close to 2042. All coal should be phased out over the next decade if CPS is at all serious about addressing climate change and the impact air pollution has on public health,” Terry Burns, the Sierra Club’s Alamo Group chair, said in an emailed statement. “It is irresponsible and a slap in the face to San Antonio area residents with asthma and other respiratory diseases to continue running Spruce 1 for another 12 years, especially without modern pollution controls.”
The utility’s CEO, Paula Gold-Williams, sought to cool tension at the meeting, assuring City Council members that the plan could change.
“Its not a baked plan that has no flexibility; the operative word is flexible,” Gold-Williams told the council. “Every year we create a look and view of the future based on what we know, and we do multiple updates and thinking and scenarios. That’s planning.”
The plan would shut down CPS’ Spruce 1 coal plant, which went online in 1992, in 2030. The Spruce 2 coal plant, which was completed in 2010 for roughly $1 billion, would run until at least 2042, according to data provided by CPS.
CPS is planning to close the two 1970s-era J.T. Deely coal units at the end of 2018.
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District 9 Councilman John Courage asked Gold-Williams why CPS couldn’t just move to 100 percent renewable energy, pointing to the community of Georgetown north of Austin as an example of a city that has made such a commitment.
“That’s a declaration of commitment, and it’s backed up by power agreements in the background that can allocate renewable power fully to cover all the demand and load, which is a viable way to do it,” Gold-Williams said. “But in
reality, power is moving indiscriminately all across the grid all the time, electrons love everybody, and in reality all the power goes in there and they could be getting … like during storms and freezing and there’s no sun and no wind, they’re getting power from other units.”
Power purchase agreements, or PPAs, allow utilities to lock in the generation created by renewable facilities at fixed costs for long periods of times, generally for up to 25 years. CPS Energy uses power purchase agreements signed with multiple companies for most of its wind and solar generation, while it owns its fossil-fuel generation and a stake in a nuclear plant.
Kaiba White, an Austin-based energy policy specialist for Public Citizen, said that power purchase agreements are little different from a utility owning its power generation.
“It kind of hurt me to hear that there’s this idea being perpetuated that Georgetown isn’t doing something real because they don’t own their solar farm,” White said.