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CPS Energy Needs More Visionary Leadership

San Antonio utility could take cues from automakers

By DeeDee Belmares

Earlier this year, General Motors Chairman and CEO Mary Barra announced that the auto manufacturer will phase out gas powered cars by 2035. Volvo and Jaguar also plan to electrify all their cars in the next 10-15 years. Barra is now calling on other car manufacturers to follow their lead in building greener cars.

Barra recognizes the damage that gasoline engines inflict on our environment and climate. Our communities, and especially the most vulnerable among them, should no longer be forced to breathe in tailpipe pollution from combustion engines. These proactive and responsive automotive leaders have listened to public pressure for cleaner cars, as cities around the nation and world build electrical vehicle infrastructure to provide drivers with readily available charging stations. They also recognize the global urgency to transition away from fossil fuels. General Motors is not stopping at building greener cars. All their facilities in the United States will be carbon neutral by 2030 and worldwide by 2040. They plan to use various available technologies to reach those target dates. Sadly, this kind of visionary leadership is desperately lacking at CPS Energy. San Antonio’s largest utility needs a bold policy maker at the helm who envisions a bright, clean future for San Antonio, not one choked by dirty natural gas and coal-power plants. A forward- thinking leader will see that the cost of renewable energy, such as wind and solar, is getting cheaper and that battery storage technology is becoming more reliable. Leaders are imperfect and will re-direct their course when they see things coming such as federal regulations that may affect their plans for the future.

Right before GM announced they would phase out gasoline vehicles, they were plaintiffs in a lawsuit, along with the Trump administration, to keep California from setting its own vehicle emission standards. Did Barra see that a possible Joe Biden administration would adopt climate change as a national priority? Probably so, because after Trump lost the presidential election in November, GM removed itself from the California lawsuit.

CPS Energy’s President and CEO, Paula Gold-Williams, recently said that the utility may delay its Flexible Plan, which was the utility’s path to shutting several aging natural gas plants and replacing them with renewable energy sources. Instead, they are considering building another natural gas-fired power plant. They blame this on the $1 billion financial hit they took from last month’s Winter Storm Uri. Gold-Williams is fear mongering when she says that closing the Spruce Coal Plant sooner than planned will cause bill shock for customers as they will be forced to raise rates. The CPS Energy CEO refuses to acknowledge the human costs of burning coal. CPS Energy is poisoning our air and people are suffering.Pollution coming out of the towers at the J.K. Spruce power plant in San Antonio, Texas

When will Gold-Williams acknowledge that refusing to explore energy options aside from coal and natural gas is pushing us faster toward a climate cliff that will trigger even more extreme weather events like last month’s freeze. Too many people suffered and continue to suffer from the freeze. There are still thousands of residents with broken water pipes that need assistance. Our utility needs a visionary leader committed to retiring the CPS coal plant by 2030 and working with its leadership team and community partners to plan for a sustainable future for its customers.
The mayor and council can also help CPS Energy lead San Antonio to a future free of carbon pollution by making bold commitments like the city of Los Angeles. Its mayor, Eric Garcetti, committed to bold climate action through their Green New Deal. They have a goal of carbon neutrality by 2050, like San Antonio, but their plan also calls on the city to get 80% of its energy from renewables by 2036. All of their municipally owned buildings must be all electric by 2030 as well. In 2019, Los Angeles’ water and electric utility company made plans to build the largest solar and battery storage system in the U.S. When completed it will be able to power nearly 293,000 homes.

It’s time for this type of leadership and vision for San Antonio.

This article first appeared in La Prensa.

DeeDee Belmares is Public Citizen’s climate justice organizer in San Antonio.