CPS Energy investments in clean energy paying off

Back in the 2010 to 2011 period, CPS Energy changed course, due to new leadership, significant opposition from the community over previous plans — including that of the Sierra Club — and some wise investments and strategies. The San Antonio municipal electric and gas utility — the largest in Texas — abandoned a plan to heavily invest in a scheme to double the size of the South Texas (Nuclear) Plant in Matagorda County and instead bet on LED lights, demand response, solar and IGCC — Integrated Gasification Carbon Capture. On three of the four, they appear to have been good decisions. On the other — so-called “clean” coal — the jury is still out. 

First, CPS Energy teamed up with demand response companies and technologies — companies that can help residential and industrial customers literally reduce their energy use during certain peak times of the summer or winter and better control their loads. CPS Energy has a variety of programs, but the most successful has been the Home Manager, which allows residential customers to control air conditioners, electric water heaters and pool pumps via computer, smart phone or tablet. According to CEO Doyle Beneby, the goal is to use Home Manager, Smart Thermostats, as well as more robust commercial and industrial DR to reach 250 MWs of DR in San Antonio by 2020. The good news? They are more than half-way there in 2014. 

At a recent quarterly Environmental Stakeholder meeting, Beneby and CPS Energy’s Chris Eugster told the folks in attendance that some 16,000 homes are currently using Home Manager — leading to the potential to save more than 30 MWs during peak demand events – while another 80,000 homes are on the Peaker Saving program, a more limited program aimed squarely at air conditioning, but that still accounts for around 30 MWs. Some 200 industrial and commercial customers account for another 70 MWs of peak demand savings when called upon. All told? 134 MWs of Demand Response. 

It has already helped the state. CPS Energy reduced demand by 47 megawatts during the polar vortex freeze earlier this month–on January 6th.   This emergency response service was critical in the early morning hours when several plants were unexpectedly down, including significant power loss from the Comanche Peak Nuclear plant owned by Luminant. 

LED lighting with the company GreenStar is also going full throttle. Not only is the company manufacturing LED lights in the San Antonio area, they are being installed In San Antonio’s streets. Some 11,000 traffic lights using old technology have been replaced with LED lighting by the local company with a goal of getting to 25,000 lights by October, covering about 30% of all traffic lights. The other good news is these lights are “dark sky” certified, meaning they point down, not up, meaning hopefully one day those living in the city can see the stars. 

On the solar side, CPS Energy says it now has more than 12 MWs of onsite solar installed in its territory, three solar PV utility-scale plants up and running — about 44 MWs in all — and the newest utility-scale plant — the Alamo 1 41 MW plant being built by OCI should be done this year. That means CPS Energy will be at approximately 100 MWs out of their 400 MW solar goal. OCI — whose manufacturing plant is now being called Mission Solar rather than Nexelon– will eventually hire 400 San Antonians and is also in the process of building another 50 MW solar facility in South Texas. 

The deal to bring power from so-called “Clean Coal” on the other hand, has hit a snag. While CPS Energy has not given up on the potential to import power from the Summit Plant being developed west of Odessa, Texas, the continual delays and price increases has meant Summit has been unable to meet deadlines and price expectations. Beneby said he would still consider taking power from the plant — which would “gasify” coal – before running turbines and sending the carbon dioxide emissions underground, but the price would have to be right. 

In other news, Beneby said he had gone forward with an agreement made during the sometimes contentious rate discussions last winter, when City Council approved an increase in CPS Energy rates, and was exploring the creation of a new program designed to bring payment assistance and weatherization to a greater penetration among San Antonio’s less affluent, older folks on fixed incomes and those with old, leaky homes. Thus far, some 7,080 homes have been weatherized in recent years, but the goal of reaching 40,000 homes by 2020 will be challenging without a much greater marketing and implementation presence and Beneby said they were exploring creating a new organizational structure — including collaborating with neighborhood groups and non-profits — to get there. 

He also said that one of the other demands — that CPS Energy redo its energy efficiency study which led to its current goal of 771 MWs of demand response and energy efficiency by 2020 — was being met, and that CPS Energy had hired Nextant to do the study. He expected it to be released in March or April and to show that CPS Energy could do more — both by 2020 and beyond. 

Finally, Beneby noted that he was in talked with Senator Troy Fraser and SAWS — the San Antonio Water Service — over the concept of building power plants to help desalinate water and have the power plants available to the grid in times of stress. The idea would to co-locate a natural gas combined cycle plant of approximately 200 MWs to power a 75,000 acre-foot desalination plant. When water was not needed, or the electric grid was stressed, the electricity plant would be available. Beneby said CPS Energy was not tied to the technology, and a solar plant, or solar-gas hybrid plant were also possible though the plant would need to be able to be dispatched on short notice. 

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