Lanny Sinkin has lived this before. As one of the few opponents of CPS Energy’s decision to partner in the construction of two nuclear reactors outside of Bay City in the 1970s, Sinkin was critical to exposing serious construction problems at the facility.
After encountering a cowed inspector from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission with incriminating documents, it was Sinkin who went to the agency’s regional headquarters. When regional inspectors couldn’t or wouldn’t substantiate the whistleblower’s claims, he went to 60 Minutes.
The editors, reporters, and camera crews came, exposing on national television a litany of problems with the Matagorda County site, including the harassment and violence employed by contractors to keep inspectors in line. The segment was compelling enough to motivate the NRC to shut down construction, conduct a major review of operations, and, ultimately, fine Houston Lighting & Power $100,000.
It taught Sinkin the system was broken.
“Why did it have to be some young, anti-nuclear activist in San Antonio going to 60 Minutes to stop poor construction at a nuclear power plant?” he asks.
He’s not much more comfortable with the process today, with CPS Energy back before the public with a $5.2 billion-dollar proposal for two new reactors and a City Council vote only weeks away.
This time, however, is different; this time, as the executive director of Solar San Antonio, Sinkin as a counter offer.
In the 1970s, it truly was a choice between coal and nuclear. With a punishing oil embargo on and San Antonio struggling to escape its natural gas-dependent portfolio, Sinkin and others like him could gain little support.
Now the city has a wealth of options, including energy efficiency, concentrated solar, wind, geothermal, and, yes, natural gas.
Sinkin has been highly critical of CPS Energy’s estimates related to the potential savings that ratcheted up weatherization and efficiency efforts could bring to the city.
Austin Energy, for instance, prices efficiency at $350 per kilowatt. CPS, meanwhile, estimates its efficiency program will cost $1,102 per kilowatt — nearly three times that amount.
And solar? CPS prices solar with storage at 21-cents per kilowatt hour.
However, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management is fast-tracking a variety of utility-scale solar projects now may be able to deliver solar power with backup natural gas-generated electricity for as low as seven centers per kilowatt hour, almost two cents cheaper than CPS’s nuclear proposition.
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