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CPS as Jerk: All I need is this (radioactive) ashtray … and this paddle game

San Antonio’s CPS Energy seals deal for new solar, but projected nuke costs won’t let it out of the kiddie clean-energy pool.


Boss man from juwi solar (and UT alum) Michael Martin got a "Hook 'Em Horns" hail sign from CPS CEO Milton Lee and a deal for clean megawatts.


Greg Harman
gharman@sacurrent.com

Your local city-owned utility is dying — just as we suggested it should two years ago.

Instead of marching boldly into a “decentralized” transformative non-polluting energy future, however, it’s doing a more grudging shuffle akin to Steve Martin as The Jerk’s Navin Johnson.

Harken back to Johnson's ruin. A design flaws in his “remarkable” eyeglass invention, the Opti-Grab, has created an epidemic of cross-eyedness across the nation, bringing on the wealth-reclaiming lawsuits. We find Johnson skulking through his palatial home, pants around his ankles, claiming not to need anyone or anything and still picking out the most random and seemingly valueless objects on his way out the door.

He bleats: “I don’t need this or this. Just this ashtray, and this paddle game. The ashtray and the paddle game and that’s all I need. And this … remote control. The ashtray and the paddle game and the remote control, and that’s all I need.”

CPS wants just one thing on its way through the grand doors of energy transformation — a little bit more of that old, bad nuke stuff.

CPS, shocked off of a steady (and then exclusive) diet of natural gas by the 1970s Middle East oil embargo, has since moved heavily into reliance on cheap, dirty coal and the devil’s bargain of nuclear. And, yes, our rates have stayed remarkably low, in keeping with the CPS’ core mission.

But with the cost of our coal-burning heating up the planet and the nuclear industry intrinsically linked to both weapons proliferation (Pakistan, North Korea, Iran, Israel) and a still unsolved problem of a stockpiling (virtually) immortal toxic nuclear waste stream, clean-energy development has been the order of the day, sort of.

While the U.S. hasn’t exactly led the energy shift on all fronts, and Texas has failed to get progressive about repairing past energy sins, wind energy is one card we can claim victory on. To San Antonio’s favor, and thanks to millions in tax breaks from these cash-strapped counties, West Texas wind has rolled naturally to CPS and contributed to our low rates.

Solar has been harder to kick-start here. The state has been little help, failing once again this past session to set ambitious solar goals on par with what we did with wind power years ago, and the culture of CPS has been in no hurry to get off of centralized power sources like coal and nukes.

Now comes a new announcement. Just two months after signing a deal for 27 megawatts of concentrated solar from a to-be-built West Texas installation, CPS has inked a deal for 30 years worth of 14 megawatts of photovoltaic solar from a farm to be built in South San Antonio.

Cris Eugster, CPS chief sustainability officer, said the deal puts the city one step closer toward being able to offer a “solartricity” green-energy program akin to our current “Windtricity” offering, whereby ratepayers can opt for higher energy bills in the hopes they are supporting the development of more clean-energy alternatives.

While I'm a happy hiked-rate-paying Windtricity customer, for a successful Solaricity someone would have to do some hard sales work convincing captive ratepayers that the bookkeepers at CPS are to be trusted. It hasn’t been that long since $40 million approved by the City Council specifically for green-energy programs magically disappeared from our coffers to be most likely absorbed for ongoing pre-development development for an as-yet unapproved expansion at the South Texas Project nuclear complex at Bay City.

Still, the pair of solar agreements puts San Antonio at the top of state utilities in terms of the pollution-free tech. It doesn’t, however, change the desired energy destination of the nuke boosters inhabiting the highchairs of CPS or (more importantly) the CPS Board of Trustees. The nukes must go on.

Mayor Julián Castro agrees, though at a smaller buy-in amount. And the editor of your daily paper, while allowing for a larger, sometimes helpful, discussion to play out on the EN pages, has jumped the gun and called the game early.

Nukes win, in case you’ve been wondering.

“In a city that already relies on STP for more than one-third of its electricity, groups that outright oppose nuclear energy don't stand much chance of prevailing,” Rivard wrote Sunday by way of compliment to the grossly extended he-said she-said retread of a story on the front page.

While he attempted to offer some sound points on our collective failures to manage our energy wisely, Rivard steered clear of calling for a radical (or incremental) shift.

He even went so far as to offer CPS his nuke-securing strategy, by saying “the more city officials and CPS increase their commitment to conservation programs and initiatives such as retrofitting older homes and buildings and accelerating some highly visible solar projects, the more popular support they are likely to win for STP expansion.”

Doubtful.

The problems with nukes are well documented though chronically underreported. More likely, as the public and council get more educated about the full array of negative ramifications of fission you can expect they’ll be less likely to bend backwards for another helping of nuke.


(And while we’re talking Express columnists, we embrace Carlos Guerra’s more sensible offering about energy storage. We love you Carlos! We don’t care what Cris “nuke defender” Eugster says about you on the letters page! And why on earth is this suitable terrain for CPS's resident green-power expert? We blame ritual hazing, poor guy.)

Homegrown nuke offenders, Energia Mia, celebrated the solar deal hesitantly.

“… if CPS is serious about solar they need to look at larger-scale projects,” said Cindy Weehler, spokesperson for Energia Mia. “Unfortunately the solar projects that CPS has investigated thus far have been quantities so small as to guarantee a high price.”  
 


“The Blue Wing Solar project is a step in the right direction, but the steps CPS needs to be taking toward solar need to be much larger,” said Alice Canestaro-Garcia, who is active with Energia Mia.

Think more like 300 megawatts. Someone else already is… and right here in West Texas.

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Check out my video of questionable integrity from yesterday's solar press conference:



Or (better), just watch the Jerk hit bottom again:




Posted by gharman on 8/25/2009 11:53:54 AM
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