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Hearing Tonight: Rate-hike testimony suggests green reforms to slow

Greg Harman
gharman@sacurrent.com

With San Antonio’s nuclear-play creeping toward dissolution, blasts of cold weather and artificially inflated gas prices have started edging up local power bills. Come March, that edge will almost certainly be sharper for already-struggling families. That's when a proposed CPS rate increase is expected to be folded into the batter.

At a Council hearing Monday night, the first of three scheduled on examining the rationale behind CPS Energy’s expected 7.5-percent electric and 8.5-percent gas rate-increase request, the tag-teaming Electron Queens, Acting GM Jelynne LeBlanc-Burley and CFO Paul Gold-Williams, ran down the numbers. The utility needs to finish the Spruce 2 coal plant this year, unwrap new gas peaking units, and shovel more than $200 million into new sub stations and keep pace with new development, they said.

This “capital cycle” will mean going deeper into debt, a proposition that didn’t sit well with Councilman John Clamp: “If we get too confident on the debt side, that will eat our lunch one day.”

Several Council members expressed squeamishness about sticking ratepayers with higher bills at a time when so many are in need — and as CPS talks about slowing environmental projects like putting scrubbers on existing coal plants and rolling out a smart grid to pave the way for solar’s arrival in SA.

The scrubbers, for instance, won't "need" to be installed until 2015 to comply with expected new federal requirements, Gold-Williams said.

While the rate increase does not include the most aggressive march forward on the green-energy front, it also doesn’t include any funds for the expansion of the STP nuclear complex at Bay City, Burley said.

A final nuclear decision, which could go down as San Antonio’s most visible stillbirth since Main Plaza, is expected at a CPS Board of Trustees meeting next week. If they choose, after all, to try to revive that beast, expect the rate-hike request to rise even higher.

However, with recent positive reception in district court, CPS should be able to separate from its nuke partner NRG Energy with a good share of its investment covered. We’ll be watching to see if the utility and City will be satisfied salvaging all those already-misspent monies or if they’ll press forward dumping millions more in the hopes of one day turning a profit for their troubles. This is where things get sticky — and not in a good way.

The second hearing on the proposed increase is being held at 5:30 pm tonight at the City Hall Complex, 114 W. Commerce. Emphasis at tonight’s meeting to be on energy conservation and green initiatives: how far? how fast?

Posted by gharman on 2/3/2010 11:44:36 AM
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