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Nuke Bile

Barreling oil prices…

Loss of market confidence…

A turbulent Middle East

If folks in the late '70s didn't know the energy crash was coming, well, go figure.

We, however, have the pleasure of a longliner's vision, sans the easy-out of surprise factoring. Not to say, we know all, we just have enough of the gloom in the mix to know enough to play it cool.

Witnessing the speculative shadowing of gold and oil values with interest rates post housing bubble has been the ultimate slow-speed dirigible rupture and flame-sifted rapture. Seems only yesterday we found that tear in the housing market's underbelly. Now there's a bloody mess sinking into the carpet.

Is it a recession? Is it depression? Are you frosted by anxiety or merely overeager?

Whatever the flip or spin, we know the numbers and their ringmasters are jittery as a flea circus in a meth lab. So when the San Antonio City Council is urged to study their options before committing the city to a potentially $17 billion blackhole (or worse, according to Moody's) undertaking for new nuclear plants — one our own utility has been apparently falsely promising at a $7 billion pricetag while failing to make its supporting documents public — it seems a reasonable request.

Representatives of conservation and energy efficiency groups gathered on the steps of City Hall to make their case this morning.

"CPS Energy has a study, but they're not giving it to the public. We're relying on information put out by the company called NRG that would build the nuclear plants that are proposed. Those estimates are way too low when you compare with any other source," said Karen Hadden, director of SEED (Sustainable Energy and Economic Development Coalition). "That's a great concern because if they're wrong and it really costs more, who will pay for the bills? Who will pay for cost overruns? We're afraid it will be the ratepayers."

The Current is fairly familiar with the City-owned utility's propensity for playing their cards close to the chest… in a dark corner… of a dark closet… at the bottom of a well… of condensed ink. The utility has fought every effort our staff has made in an attempt to justify, or merely understand, CPS figures.

Before council members vote up or down a request of $206 million to help pay for filing an application with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and make the design changes needed for the project, Hadden suggested an independent cost study be undertaken.

"Because the real information is not on the table," she said.

The group, which included Arjun Makhijani, president of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, who recently spoke to a packed room at the Witte on his research into the potential of solar energy for the country, urged residents to attend a CPS Energy meeting tomorrow night and contact their council reps to make their questions and concerns heard.

While the City's utility has had a "paradigm shift" regarding how it plans to pursue energy efficiency strategies, CPS is still hobbled, Makhijani said. They still aren't putting the same degree of honest analysis into efficiency measures and the potential of renewable power.

However, honest appraisals are not possible because of CPS's decision not to release its energy study.

"From what is public, I am not at all confident that a full equal and economical comparison has been made, because their own literature indicates they can achieve more than what a nuclear power plant would give them in terms of capacity — and they're not shooting for it," Makhijani added.

"Their own literature" refers here to a study contracted out on the potential of efficiency to provide for the city's continued growth, as reported to Current readers many months back as a part of the feature story CPS Must Die.

Makhijani added that the nukes CPS wants to build will be outdated by the time they are able to come online.

"My assessment of solar energy costs, along with many other assessments, including the official U.S. government assessment, is that solar energy costs are coming down quite rapidly and will be much lower in the next two to three years," he said. "It is quite likely that these new nuclear power plants will be economically obsolete before they come online. Therefore NRG and whatever investment San Antonio has in it will be at considerably higher cost than what you build in a year or two in just three or four years."

Makhijani stands by solar's potential, supplemented by natural gas or biofuels. At least this data is sitting in the sunshine. You can download his book yourself and draw your own conclusions.

"It's also time for San Antonio City Council do what it was elected to do, and that was to oversee a utility to that seems to run independently and as a municipal utility should not," said Loretta Von Copponelle, of the city Sierra Club chapter. "CPS makes no bones about keeping its Strategic Energy Plan secret. Not even council people are privy to it, and council is the overseer of CPS."

For CPS's part, officers have said that only a fraction of its proposed rate hike is attributable to its pursuit of new nukes.

Which may be, for now.

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HERE'S THE CPS RELEASE:

The CPS Energy Board of Trustees and the utility's Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) will hold a public meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday, March 25, at Villita Assembly Building, 401 Villita St., on a proposal to raise electric and natural gas rates to help meet the long-term energy needs of a growing Greater San Antonio.

During the meeting, CPS Energy customers will be able to obtain more information about the rate request that would amount to less than 5 percent on monthly residential utility bills. A proposed affordability discount to help minimize the financial impact on low-income customers also will be outlined.

Customers then will have the opportunity to make comment before the CPS Energy Board and CAC.  Registration to speak will open on-site at 5 p.m., and speakers will be limited to three minutes per person.  However, an individual may cede his or her time to another speaker, but no speaker may speak for more than nine minutes¿ total.

On March 31, CPS Energy staff will ask the Board for approval of a combined electric and gas rate request that would mean less than a $7 per month increase on the typical residential customer's bill of $135.  CPS Energy is continuing to work with the City of San Antonio's utility oversight staff to refine the amounts of the adjustments in electric and gas rates.  If the Board agrees to raise rates, then CPS Energy's regulatory authority -- the San Antonio City Council -- must give final approval.

The proposed electric rate increase will be the first time since 1991 that a change in the rate structure would produce additional revenue to meet CPS Energy's financial obligations.  An electric rate adjustment in 2005 for an additional 12 percent share of the South Texas Project (STP) nuclear power plant actually resulted in lower customer bills because nuclear fuel produces electricity at a lower cost compared to other fuels.

"Thanks to growth throughout our community and sound financial management, we haven't had to request many rate increases during the past two decades," said Norma Soliz, CPS Energy senior director of regulatory relations.  "We wish we didn't have to request an increase now, but in response to our customers' requirements, we have committed to major projects that will help ensure reliable service and maintain our enviable position of having the lowest energy bills among the nation's 10 largest cities."

Soliz said CPS Energy has made large financial commitments as part of the company's Strategic Energy Plan to satisfy the growing community's energy needs for the long run.  "We continue to add more than 1,000 customers every month," she said.  "Meanwhile, we're experiencing significant price increases in steel, concrete and other commodities necessary to complete capital construction projects."

Revenue from the electric rate increase will help pay for the following major initiatives to serve CPS Energy customers:

* construction of a large coal-fired generating unit at Calaveras Lake and the installation of natural gas-fired peaking units at Braunig Lake that will produce affordable electricity;

* environmental commitments to the community and region including $500 million in emissions-control upgrades to existing power plants;

* $96 million in customer rebates and incentives as part of CPS Energy's more-aggressive energy-efficiency program;

* needed infrastructure such as electric substations and power lines; and

* a detailed study on the possible addition of more nuclear-fueled electrical generation.

"The study of possibly expanding our supply of nuclear-generated electricity will account for less than 1 percent of the proposed 5 percent electric rate increase," Soliz noted.

Revenue from the gas rate increase will help pay for construction to expand and further improve the infrastructure of CPS Energy's natural gas delivery systems.

"The recommended increases are not about operations and maintenance expenses, although we have made a concerted effort at CPS Energy to control costs," Soliz said.  "For example, through attrition and productivity improvements, we've been able to reduce our work force from 4,300 to 3,800 over the past five years."

To offset the impact of the rate increases on low-income customers, CPS Energy will recommend an affordability discount for those who meet the guidelines for assistance programs such as REAP (Residential Energy Assistance Partnership) and Project WARM.  Recipients must be at or below 125 percent of the federal poverty level and experiencing financial hardship.

"Greater San Antonio continues to move forward," Soliz said, "and CPS Energy wants to do its part in staying abreast of the community's need for reliable, affordable energy.  Small gas and electric rate increases will help make that possible.  It also will enable us to continue offering the lowest energy bills of any major city in Texas or the U. S."

CPS Energy is the nation's largest municipally owned energy company providing both natural gas and electric service.  Acquired by the City of San Antonio in 1942, CPS Energy serves approximately 680,000 electric customers and almost 319,000 natural gas customers in and around the seventh-largest city in the U. S.  The company has earned the highest financial ratings of any electric system in the nation.  It recorded the highest score nationally in the J. D. Power and Associates 2007 Gas Utility Residential Customer Satisfaction Study and second-highest score nationwide in the 2008 Electric Utility Business Customer Survey.  

For more CPS Energy information, visit www.cpsenergy.com.

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HERE'S THE SIERRA CLUB RELEASE:

CPS Energy wants to commit to two new nuclear units at Bay City to join South Texas Nuclear Project's units 1 and 2.

Studies have shown a rise in cancer rates in the vicinity of nuclear plants, and a decline when the plants are closed. Pregnant women and young children seem to be the most vulnerable.

CPS is saying that the two new units will cost about $4 - $5 billion and be on-line by 2016. This is highly unlikely. Moody's Investors Service has calculated that a plant the size of what we'd be getting will cost more in the neighborhood of $16 billion. We ratepayers will be paying that. And the plant is likely to experience delays that make 2016 much too optimistic a start up date. Already the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has indefinitely postponed consideration of the application because of software concerns. And the waste disposal problem for all nukes is far from being solved.

There are safer, cleaner, eminently more viable alternatives to nuclear that will meet the demand of our growing population, and ultimately cost less in terms of both health and money. We need to convince CPS and our City Council of this.

CPS will hold a public hearing on the nuke Tuesday, March 25, 6-8 pm, at La Villita Assembly Hall. PLEASE ATTEND. PLEASE MAKE A STATEMENT OPPOSING NUCLEAR AND ENDORSING EFFICIENCY, CONSERVATION AND RENEWABLE ENERGY. We need your help! If the number of people who speak out is large, we cannot be ignored.

Hall is located at 401 Villita St and here is a link to get online map location.

http://search.cityguide.aol.com/sanantonio/entertainment/la-villita-assembly-hall/v-135263

For more information call Loretta, Conservation Chair, Alamo Group of the Sierra Club, at 492-4620.

Posted by Greg Harman on 3/24/2008
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