As Thursday Vote Looms on Two New Reactors, Popular Opposition May Make Selling Nuclear Power More Difficult

Oct. 26, 2009

As Thursday Vote Looms on Two New Reactors, Popular Opposition May Make Selling Nuclear Power More Difficult

CPS Wholesale Customers Already Facing Public Relations Battles

 SAN ANTONIO – As a Thursday vote on two new nuclear reactors looms, cities around the state that purchase power from San Antonio’s municipal utility, City Public Services (CPS), are balking at the prospect of buying pricey nuclear power from the reactors.

Three problems exist with the planned expansion at the South Texas Nuclear Project (STP) facility. First, nuclear power creates dangerous radioactive waste that no one has figured out how to dispose of safely.

Second, nuclear power is expensive – the nuclear industry requires taxpayer subsidies to prop it up. Third, no one knows for certain just how much the construction of the two reactors will cost ratepayers.

The CPS board recently recommended that CPS Energy, which owns a 50 percent stake in the project along with NRG energy, reduce that share to 20 to 25 percent. CPS Energy and NRG Energy have been attempeting to sell a joint 20 percent share for the past year, but a buyer has not yet been found. If they can’t reduce their stake, they will be even more responsible for any cost overruns and would be more likely to need to increase rates to cover the project.

CPS has announced that it wants to increase San Antonio ratepayer bills by 5 percent every two years over the next 10 years, in large part to pay for the two new reactors. These rate increases could be as much as 8 percent every two years unless CPS can sell its share of the reactors, as it is trying to do. 

CPS is trying to allay the fears of San Antonio and the City Council by saying they’ll own only a 20 percent share, but they’re still on the hook for a full 50 percent if they can’t find a buyer,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith, director of Public Citizen’s Texas office. “Outside cities and wholesale customers of CPS are wising up to the fact that San Antonio’s nuclear expansion is not a good idea. We urge cities to tell San Antonio: No new nuclear reactors.”

The San Antonio City Council votes Thursday to approve $400 million in bonds for nuclear energy, which will determine whether CPS moves forward with the project.

Growing opposition to nuclear power may make selling CPS’ unwanted shares of STP more difficult. Citizen opposition to the STP project already has caused delays in San Antonio, where the City Council put off a vote to issue nuclear bonds for a month. Wholesale customers of CPS such as the cities of Hondo, Georgetown and Kerrville also are seeing a rising tide of public discontent about nuclear power.

“In an energy market where demand is already down and cities could readily meet their needs with clean energy sources such as efficiency, solar, wind and more, cities looking to buy power from STP could be confronted with a public relations battle over nuclear power,” said Smith.

 On Oct. 13, the city of Hondo unanimously passed a resolution urging San Antonio and CPS Energy to “not approve the expansion of the South Texas Project nuclear power plant” and to “pursue safer, cleaner, more affordable energy options and not additional nuclear reactors.”

 “We introduced this resolution for Hondo because we want to power our city with clean, safe energy that will benefit the economic development of the area with green, sustainable jobs,” said Chavel Lopez, a member of Hondo’s Council at the time the resolution was passed. “We hope that this measure will set precedence for other cities purchasing electricity from CPS Energy to take a stand. Other cities should pass similar resolutions to show the San Antonio City Council that residents of rural communities will be impacted in a negative way by this proposal and the uncertainty of our electricity rates over the next 10 years.”

In Georgetown and Kerrville, both of which CPS has identified as potential buyers of their unwanted project shares, citizens are organizing to urge their councils to pass similar resolutions. Last week in Georgetown, a group of students at Southwestern University known as Students for Environmental Activism and Knowledge (SEAK) held a press conference asking the Georgetown City Council to reconsider its support for the STP expansion and to do so in a public forum. Georgetown’s long-term generation plan includes a goal of purchasing 30 percent nuclear power by 2030, but given the fact that the estimated cost of nuclear expansion has doubled since that goal was set, students are calling on the Council to reevaluate that plan.

“Because nuclear reactors come with a huge financial and environmental cost, we are asking the City Council to reconsider their future generation plan and refuse nuclear power from CPS Energy in San Antonio,” said Tanlyn Roelofs with SEAK. “Nuclear power is too expensive, is not an alternative to coal and uses too much water in a region already harmed by drought.”

Representatives from SEAK will make a presentation to the Georgetown City Council on Tuesday.

Local residents of Kerrville are similarly concerned that the Kerrville Public Utility Board (KPUB) is being courted as a potential buyer of San Antonio’s unwanted share of the STP expansion. 

“CPS is over its head in this investment and is hoping that KPUB will be foolish enough to take it off of their hands,” said Ann Morris Cockrell, resident of Kerr County and long-time anti-nuclear activist. “Why on earth would any city take on an investment that Wall Street won’t – and if the City of San Antonio can’t handle it, why would they think that a town the size of Kerrville can? Even a small share of this plant could easily overwhelm our resources if the deal goes south. Kerrville should follow Hondo’s lead and adopt a resolution against nuclear involvement.”