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Plugged in to wind

CPS offers some renewable-energy options, but environmental activists want to see more turbines spinning on the Texas skyline

Stephen Keller
Picture a field of wind turbines, at a cost of $1.2 million each (but they last 20-25 years).

 

At an early June press conference, representatives from the Sierra Club, Environment Texas, and Solar San Antonio planted hundreds of pinwheels, representing wind turbines, in the lawn at Maverick Park to demonstrate the potential for renewable energy in the Lone Star State. The groups rallied for U.S. Representative Charlie Gonzalez’s support of House Resolution 969, a bill requiring a nationwide 20-percent renewable-energy standard by 2020.

“It’s the equivalent of taking 89 million cars off the road,” said JJ Karabias, regional field organizer for Environment Texas. “There is enough wind moving through the Great Plains to power the entire country.”

A study conducted by the Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that a 20-percent standard would create 355,000 jobs, invest $16.2 billion in rural economies, and put $49 billion back into consumers’ pockets.

Sponsored by Representative Tom Udall of New Mexico, HR 969 garnered 121 co-sponsors in the House, but lies in a perpetual wait in the Energy and Commerce Committee. According to Gonzalez, the bill doesn’t have a chance.

Another bill, House Congressional Resolution 25, sponsored by Representative Collin Peterson of Minnesota, will come before the Committee in the fall. The bill shoots for a 25-percent renewable standard by 2025. Also in the fall, the House Energy and Commerce Committee will try to hammer out a bill addressing carbon-dioxide emissions, climate change, coal-fired plants, and renewable energy. One proposed idea would use the “Cap and Trade” model to allow energy providers to accumulate points based on good CO2 emissions ratings. Energy providers could buy points from one another if their emissions are too high.

“I would venture to guess [a mandate] will be very difficult, but we have to start setting standards,” said Gonzalez.

According to Karabias, Texas remains the national leader in wind energy, yet only 2.5 percent of our state’s energy comes from renewable sources. San Antonio’s City Public Service has already made some major steps toward the 20-percent standard; currently 11 percent of its energy comes from wind, solar, and landfill gas.

“CPS has done a good job, we just need to ask them to do more,” said Jerry Morrisey, chair of the Alamo Group of the Sierra Club. “The Sierra Club asks CPS Energy to establish an advisory committee with broad representation from residents, businesses, and public entities such as schools, to promote energy efficiency.”

CPS says that it already receives 500-megawatts of wind energy from the Desert Sky Wind Farm in Iraan and the Cottonwood Creek Wind Farm in Sweetwater. According to the State Energy Conservation Office’s website, one megawatt of wind can power 250-300 homes.

“Wind energy is probably the easiest and most cost-effective renewable source out there,” said Matt Haeker, CPS energy efficiency renewable analyst.

CPS also gets 9.6 megawatts from the Covel Gardens Landfill and Lackland Landfill, where methane from the trash heaps is siphoned and converted to electricity by jet engines, and is developing a $1.35-million project to install a 200-kilowatt array of solar panels atop the old Pearl Brewery warehouse. In an effort to kick-start solar energy in San Antonio, CPS recently announced its Solar Technology Incentive Program. Customers receive rebates ($3 per watt or $3,000 per kilowatt installed) for using photovoltaic solar panels — up to $10,000 for residential and $50,000 for commercial.

Customers may purchase wind power for home usage by participating in the Windtricity program. The energy is offered in $3 per 100 kilowatt blocks and may be purchased in those increments up to the home’s total energy consumption, which averages between 1000 to 1500 kilowatts/month. CPS would not say how many customers subscribe to the service, citing privacy issues, but claimed that participation has increased by 35 percent in the past few years. Several local businesses have also signed on to receive 100-percent wind power.

CPS estimates the initial price of each wind turbine at around $1.2 million, including construction and installation costs. The turbines last 20-25 years and require little maintenance, but are somewhat susceptible to lightning. The true cost is in the demand.

“The costs of wind have kind of gone up because of availability,” said Justin Chamberlain, CPS marketing analyst. “It you wanted to buy a turbine this year, you couldn’t because they were all spoken for.”

Wind energy has met some resistance from Texas’s famous King Ranch, which argues that the giant turbines will disrupt the path of migratory birds, hurt local wildlife, and destroy the landscape’s natural beauty. But organizations such as PETA and the National Audubon Society publicly support the energy source.

“Far more birds — and people — will be threatened by global warming than by wind turbines,” wrote Audubon Society President John Flicker in the November-December Issue of Audubon Magazine.

Haecker claims that builders take birds and other factors into account when planning a wind-farm site: “As an investor, you’re not going to stick your neck out if there’s a significant risk.”

Haecker also rejected notions that wind farms may hurt rural economies, stating that increases in property value and taxes benefit schools in the area. Similar to an oil lease, landowners receive royalties for the energy produced on their property. But unlike oil, wind doesn’t run out.

CPS already exceeds Texas renewable standards, which only requires a statewide 5 percent standard by 2015, 10 percent by 2025, and is working to meet the new 500 megawatt non-wind quota. Despite this, its projected goals fall 5 percent short of HR 969’s proposed level and CPS is currently unprepared to make up the difference.

“[If the bill gets passed] I’m sure we’ll be scrambling like everyone else,” Haecker said.


Meanwhile, at the Pink Dome

At the end of June, the 28 members of the Legislative Air Quality Caucus (including S.A.’s representatives Mike Villarreal, Joe Straus and David Leibowiz) wrote House Speaker Tom Craddick and Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, asking the leaders of the Legislature to appoint an “Interim Special Committee on Electric Generation Capacity and Environmental Impact.” The committee would be charged with studying the state’s 50-year demand for electric energy, the effects those electricity-generating facilities have on climate change, and to prepare a long-term plan.

The committee would’ve been created by HB 2713, which passed unanimously in the House, but Govenor Rick Perry vetoed it, claiming it would be duplicating work already done by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

“Unfortunately, the Governor did not seem to understand the intent of HB 2713,” the letter says. “As our Caucus learned after several meetings with the Governor’s own appointees ... Texas does not currently have a long-term plan.” 

— Dave Maass


Summertime Saving Tips

Those rain-forest days probably won’t last forever, so for the 12-year gap between now and the HR 969’s proposed 20-percent standard, CPS offers a few ways to beat the heat and keep some extra cash in your wallet during the summer.

Have your cooling and duct systems professionally inspected for air leaks and other problems. CPS offers customer rebates for: 20 percent of the cost of duct testing (max $50), 50 percent of duct repairs and sealing (max $250), and 20 percent of duct insulation and replacement (max $1000).

Clean and replace air condition filters once every two weeks.

Plant trees and shrubs or install solar screens to reduce your home’s direct sun exposure.

Clear a 2-3 foot area around AC units for proper air circulation.

Set your thermostat between 78 and 80 degrees (just one degree cooler will increase your bill atleast 7 percent).

For more information on rebates or energy saving, visit Cpsenergy.com

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