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CPS Energy Update: Solar Held Hostage to Natural Gas

By Kaiba White

Renewable energy is cheap. Corporations, cities, utilities and anyone else with the ability to take advantage of wholesale energy purchasing are jumping at the opportunity to reduce costs with affordable wind and solar power.

Many companies, utilities and governments hold these contracts up as evidence of their commitment to “going green.” But the green that is really spurring the massive transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy is the dollar bill – in the electricity sector in Texas and elsewhere.

Why then is San Antonio’s city-owned CPS Energy resistant to issuing a request for proposals (RFP) for clean energy? For more than a year, Public Citizen and our allies have urged the utility to issue an all-source RFP, which would establish criteria for what the utility needs, without predetermining which energy sources can meet those needs. But CPS Energy staff, lead by CEO Paula Gold-Williams, refused to act. We’ve called for a public, transparent resource planning processes — as the American Public Power Association recommends, and as Austin Energy does — but, again, CPS Energy has resisted.

We were hopeful when CPS Energy staff announced that they wanted to issue an RFP for 900 megawatts of solar energy by the end of the year. But CPS had bad news as well: the utility wanted to enter a no-bid contract for 500 megawatts of combined cycle natural gas generating capacity. Using outdated technologies is risky, and no-bid contracts are never in the public interest, so we opposed this proposal.

CPS Energy’s plan was hard to defend. The public utility wanted to hand-pick a company for a big contract without a competitive process and no demonstration that the selected technology was best for the job. In the face of public opposition, CPS Energy slowed down the timeline to decide on the natural gas contract. That’s the good news. The bad news is that Gold-Williams also put the brakes on the solar requests for proposals. She won’t move forward with solar unless she gets the go-ahead to negotiate a natural gas contract.

In other words: cheap solar energy is being held hostage to more expensive natural gas.

Would solar be cheaper than natural gas for CPS Energy? There’s an easy way to answer that question – issue an all-source RFP. The strategy Public Citizen recommends would let CPS define its exact needs and allow energy producers of all types to offer proposals to meet those needs.

Are you a CPS Energy customer interested in paying less for energy?

Contact the CPS board and tell them you support an all source RFP – a request for proposals for all sources of energy to meet our needs.