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PC in Your State: Energy Policy in San Antonio

Public Citizen News / July-August 2022

By José Medina

This article appeared in the July/August 2022 edition of Public Citizen News. Download the full edition here.

San Antonio is the fastest-growing city in the country. With that rapid growth comes increasing energy demand. The advocates who call this growing city home are pushing for energy policies that will protect public health and address the climate crisis.

Much of Public Citizen’s work in San Antonio is connected to the city’s electric utility, CPS Energy. In recent months, CPS Energy has approved a vital energy efficiency program and taken an initial step in securing large-scale solar electricity generating capacity. The utility still must decide what it will do with one of the newest coal-burning power plants operating in the country.

San Antonians received some good news in mid-June when the city council voted to extend the Save for Tomorrow Energy Plan (STEP). Due to expire in July, the program has provided essential incentives for residents to weatherize their homes, purchase energy-efficient appliances, and more. While the city council should have adopted a more ambitious version of STEP with more funding, the news was welcomed by Public Citizen and its partners.

It was not lost on advocates that the STEP extension vote occurred during a brutal and dangerous climate-fueled heat wave that set new records for electricity demand in the Lone Star State.

“This heat wave is exactly why energy efficiency programs like STEP are critical to addressing our increasing need for electricity,” said DeeDee Belmares, Public Citizen’s climate justice organizer in San Antonio. “While the city council should have approved a more ambitious version of STEP with increased funding to reach even more San Antonians, this program will help secure our city’s energy future.”

A few weeks earlier, CPS Energy also made an important announcement that would provide more renewable energy to San Antonians.

In late May, CPS Energy officials announced that the utility would add 300 megawatts of utility-scale solar generating capacity as part of its FlexPOWER Bundle initiative. The announcement partially fulfills CPS Energy’s pledge to add 900 megawatts of solar power. The utility still must follow through on its pledge to add 50 megawatts of battery storage capacity. Still, this announcement, combined with the renewal of STEP, helps put San Antonio on a path toward a cleaner and more sustainable future.

“This first step in the utility meeting its commitment to replace some fossil fuel-generated electricity with a clean and renewable energy source like solar is good for the air we breathe, and it also helps address the urgent climate crisis,” Belmares added.

But CPS Energy has yet to make significant progress or specific commitments on the future of what remains a blight on San Antonio and a threat to public health: the Spruce coal plant.

The plant was the subject of a town hall held in April that was attended by the interim CEO of CPS Energy, Ruddy Garza, marking the first time the utility’s chief executive joined advocates at a community meeting.

Though Garza did not make any specific commitments about the future of Spruce, he expressed a willingness to listen to advocates and the community.

“The job that we do for the community is important … We’re trying to listen,” Garza told the town hall. “We’re trying to engage differently; I’m here. We may not always agree on a solution or an outcome, but I certainly want to listen and present our board with unsolicited feedback we get from the community so they can make informed decisions.”

Public Citizen will continue to call on CPS Energy and San Antonio city leaders to shut down Spruce. Decommissioning this harmful polluting plant is necessary to secure a healthy environment and a sustainable energy future for this booming city.