June 27, 2003
CPS Urged to Delay Monday Vote on Coal-Fired Power Plant
Groups Say CPS Failed to Assess Impact on Human Health, City’s Economy
SAN ANTONIO – A Monday vote by the City Public Service (CPS) board of directors on whether to apply for a permit to build a new coal-fired power plant should be postponed until more is known about the plant’s impact on the health of San Antonio’s residents and its economy, two citizens groups said today.
The CPS staff will ask that the board approve an application to be sent to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to build a new 750-megawatt power plant.
Consumer group Public Citizen and the Sustainable Energy and Economic Development (SEED) Coalition have joined with several San Antonio neighborhood and citizens groups to call for a 180-day moratorium on a vote by the CPS board.
Public Citizen and SEED cited three "fatal flaws" in the CPS staff’s recommendation to build a new coal-fired plant:
"CPS has failed to look at the serious health impacts of a new plant, the impacts of the additional air pollution it would produce, and the proven reasonable low-cost alternatives that could save money and mean cleaner air," said Tom "Smitty" Smith, director of Public Citizen’s Texas office.
CPS estimates the new plant will cost $750 million to construct, but similar-sized plants in the United States have typically cost $1 billion or more. CPS’ three existing coal-fired power plants already are the leading industrial polluters in the San Antonio area. Pollution reductions from these plants are being made, Smith said.
"It makes no sense to undo the air quality gains that will be made and the long-deserved relief for asthma sufferers by building another dirty coal plant, especially when real options exist," he said. "The problem is that CPS hasn’t even bothered to seriously consider cheaper, cleaner alternatives to a coal plant. They haven’t done their homework."
Those alternatives include investing more in renewable energy sources such as wind power and in programs that help the city’s residents use less energy.
Coal-fired power plants are among the nation’s largest sources of air pollution and contribute greatly to global climate change. There are 93 deaths each year in San Antonio as a result of coal-fired power plant particle pollution, according to a Clean Air Task Force report.
"There’s no doubt San Antonio could meet its energy needs in ways that don’t cost $1 billion, don’t pollute the air, and don’t damage people’s lungs," said Karen Hadden, deputy director of the SEED Coalition.
Hadden also pointed out that the proposal to build a new coal-fired plant comes at a time when the air pollution problems from CPS’ existing J.T. Deely plant have not been resolved. There have been more than 6,000 opacity (excess smoke) violations in less than three years at the plant, state records show.
San Antonio already has poor air quality and is at risk of not meeting federal health-based standards. If San Antonio doesn’t meet those standards, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency could levy sanctions that include the loss of federal highway funds, limits on the kinds of industry that can come into the area and requirements for annual auto emission inspections.
"Even with the best air emission control equipment, the air pollution from a new coal-burning power plant might push San Antonio over the edge in terms of acceptable air quality," Smith said. "That might hurt San Antonio’s ability to attract additional new industries, such as Toyota, in the future."
Smith said that the CPS should look at Austin’s energy efficiency program. Austin was able to avoid building a new power plant and cut peak demand energy consumption by 500 megawatts by providing rebates and low-interest loans to its utility customers who install more efficient lighting and air-conditioning and who weatherize their homes. As a result, citizens had cooler homes and businesses, lower bills and cleaner air at a quarter of what a new coal plant would have cost.
At a CPS public hearing last week, a majority of the 125 attendees and 26 of the 30 speakers opposed building a new coal-fired plant. Many groups oppose a new coal plant and are urging CPS to delay their decision in order to study cheaper, cleaner alternatives. They include Neighborhoods First Alliance, ACORN, Esperanza Environmental Justice Center, San Antonio Coalition for Environmental and Economic Justice, the Sierra Club, Clean Water Action and others.
"Right now, the public is still in the dark on this proposal," Smith said. "The CPS should do the right thing and take a hard look at how this new plant will affect human health." A 180-day postponement would give CPS time to fully research alternatives, compare the impacts of coal to renewable energy sources and to gain meaningful public input, Smith said.