Balancing the Tried and True with the New for San Antonio’s Energy Future

This article originally published in the Rivard Report on October 15, 2019.

Recently there have been op-eds and commentaries in the media regarding CPS Energy’s current generation assets, as well as our asset planning approach and public input process. We recognize this discussion is timely considering San Antonio City Council’s continuing focus on the Climate Action and Adaptation Plan (CAAP).

First and foremost, we want to thank our community for providing ongoing feedback to us. As San Antonio’s municipally owned gas and electric company, we absolutely appreciate input from everyone as we have worked hard to responsibly manage our community’s energy assets for more than 76 years.

There is no doubt, CPS Energy, along with the entire energy industry, is in a state of transition that includes more renewable and non-emitting sources of energy. The issue of climate change and clean air is a worldwide issue, and while much progress has been made, we believe it is currently unclear when in the future technologies will progress and mature to the point that renewable energy can be relied upon for all our electricity needs.

Our core business, as well as our obligation, is to responsibly manage a diverse and dynamic power generation portfolio, and we believe we can continue to do that appropriately and successfully by leaning into our Flexible Path. Our current fleet of power plants represents investments that our community has made over decades, and a thoughtful renewable transition is underway. We have made tremendous progress under our long-term and effective governance structure that includes a five-member Board of Trustees; a 15-member Citizens Advisory Committee, 10 of which are appointed by their respective San Antonio City Council member; and the San Antonio City Council. All of these bodies are very engaged, and effectively seek community input on numerous topics year-after-year. 

Relative to emerging energy solutions, we seek options that meet the needs of all customers, as well as our community, in terms of 1) affordability, 2) reliability, 3) safety, 4) security, 5) resiliency, and 6) environmental impact. Our Flexible Path also enables swift changes in plans, as technologies develop. Specifically, when more efficient and cost-effective energy storage or other non-carbon-emitting technologies become available in the future and meet the six criteria mentioned herein, we will explore moving to these types of technologies as soon as reasonably possible.

While we routinely make presentations to our community regarding the technical life span of existing traditional assets, there has been no formal declaration about whether or not to run the Spruce 2 coal unit through its original design life of 2060. Just like we closed the coal-fired Deely units early, time will tell how quickly technology and new energy solutions can alternatively come to scale to serve our community reliably and affordably. 

Conversely, to just declare the closure of units without replacement power would be irresponsible. This is consistent with the work that was done earlier. Specifically, when we decided years ago to close two older coal units, we purchased a much younger, less emitting gas plant in Seguin.

Throughout the SA Climate Ready development process, people from across the community provided input to help shape the CAAP. In fact, the City received well over 4,800 written comments alone. Given our role as the community’s primary energy provider, we have a responsibility to engage in this discussion and we did so by adhering to the City’s established public and formal comment process. We submitted thorough comments that are reflective of our diverse customers’ needs and our deep knowledge of the energy industry. Further, it is important to point out that CPS Energy made its Flexible Path strategy public before, during, and after the CAAP was developed. We at CPS Energy, believe wholeheartedly that we can guide our approach forward to manage objectively and responsibly toward a net non-emitting future. 

The CAAP can be the continuation of an important community conversation, and one of several meaningful actions we all need to take together to secure our community’s energy future. This means everyone, from energy to transit, water, buildings, education, manufacturing, general business, civic leaders, residents, and others.

Our participation in the CAAP Steering Committee and Technical Working Group meetings was designed to be respectful and observant. We wanted to hear all of the conversations about the thought process and planning of the CAAP. Again, through it all, we continually focused on the merits of our Flexible Path

As a financial contributor of nearly $1 million per day to the City of San Antonio, it has always been our intention to support the development and implementation of initiatives that benefit our community. Relative to the CAAP, we have done this through the submittal of data and inputs to help frame relevant energy context. After hearing from management, our Board, in turn, recently endorsed the August version of the CAAP at CPS Energy’s August 2019 Board Meeting.

For the last year and half, we have been in the community talking about the future of energy through our Flexible Path and receiving input from a wide range of customers on what matters most to them. We have numerous avenues through which we receive public feedback, including stakeholder meetings, monthly Board of Trustees meetings, and at specially-called Board Public Input Sessions. We also conduct ongoing People First community fairs, host focus groups, and administer customer surveys. 

This summer we asked for community input through two brief surveys that are related to our Flexible Path and were designed for us to learn about the priorities of our customers. Current survey results have indicated affordability is the top priority for 52 percent of the respondents on the FlexPOWER Bundle survey, as well as for 47 percent of the FlexSTEP (energy conservation and efficiency) survey respondents. Please know that affordability is not positioned toward CPS Energy. More importantly, it relates to our customers’ pocket books. We are cognizant that social justice also relates to how customers can be affected over time by normal rate increases, as well as climate initiatives. We must be thoughtful about it all.

As the energy industry continues to evolve and advance, we continue to think globally and apply locally. There are pros and cons for every power generation source and for each available technology. As your long-term, local utility and your industry energy experts, we will continue to share information with our customers on the rapidly changing energy landscape.

Finally, as the President and CEO of CPS Energy, I understand the responsibility to listen to our many stakeholders across our community. I and our 3,100 CPS Energy employees that provide you power 24/7/365, will continue to push for innovation and solutions to provide energy that is affordable, secure, safe, reliable, resilient, and environmentally conscious.

Paula Gold-Williams

Paula Gold-Williams is the President & CEO of CPS Energy

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