Tag Archives: San Antonio

San Antonio Council approves rate increase — but calls on CPS Energy to add programs and efficiency

Today, the San Antonio Council  approved on a 9-2 vote  the proposed CPS Energy rate increase of 4.25%. However, while approving the rate — reduced from an original 4.75% increase proposal — several members asked CPS Energy to look at expanding its consumer service projects as well as their weatherization program known as Casa Verde. Moreover, several other councilmembers called on CPS Energy to look at increasing its STEP energy efficiency goals from the current goal of 771 MWs. CPS Energy General Manager Doyle Beneby told the council they would begin meetings to look at improving Casa Verde and would initiate a new energy efficiency study to see if the goals would be raised in the STEP program. Councilmembers also wanted CPS Energy to look at a fixed rates for those on fixed incomes.

Sierra Club, and other members of the ReEnergize Coalition, will continue to work with City Council and CPS Energy to increase energy efficiency and solar programs and update building energy codes in San Antonio.

ReEnergize San Antonio, Sierra Club again tell San Antonio Council — no CPS Energy Rate increase without more investment in solar, energy efficiency

Last night, in San Antonio’s beautiful council chambers, members of the ReEnergize San Antonio coalition — including several representatives of Sierra Club — told the City Council “NO” on the rate increase proposed by CPS Energy, unless significant additional investments in energy efficiency, solar and weatherization were made as part of the rate increase.

CPS Energy is proposing to raise rates by 4.25% across the board on all residential, commercial and industrial customers, even as the municipal utility grows in accounts and sales. Part of the reason for the rate increase appears to be legitimate — new needed transmission, meter and environmental regulatory upgrades. But the ReEnergize Coalition argued last night that much more could be done to lower the impact of the proposed rate increase.

Local Sierra Club members Terry Burns and Meredith McGuire spoke eloquently about the need to invest in clean power and energy efficiency and look at the concept of tiered rates — where those using more would pay a higher rate while those using a minimum amount could actually see lower rates. Terry Burns also spoke about the need for community solar. Several members of the coalition like Antonio Diaz and Karen Hadden — with the SEED Coalition — spoke of the dangers of continued investments in the aging and failing South Texas Nuclear Power Plant, while Marisol Cortez of the People Power Coalition  and Diana Lopez of Southwest Workers spoke about the need to redouble efforts on the Casa Verde weatherization program, using a neighborhood “Promotora” model, and to invest in community solar for working San Antonians so they could enjoy the benefits of solar power. Tom “Smitty” Smith from Public Citizen spoke about the fact that the original STEP Goal of 771 MWs was made based on budgetary considerations because it was thought it would cost more than it does and that 1221 MWs as originally proposed by KEMA was achievable. Indeed, when the original KEMA report came out, an LED light was prohibitively expensive, while today they can be purchased for the same amount as a compact flourescent light. Image

City Council members are expected to consider the CPS Energy rate increase today at City Hall.

Below are comments made by Cyrus Reed, Conservation Director of the Lone Star Chapter:

I am here on behalf of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club and we are part of the ReEnergize San Antonio Coalition calling for 13 demands to make CPS Energy a true clean energy leader focussed on affordable service and energy conservation before any rate increase is approved. We have some good news. CPS Energy has lowered their rate request from 4.75% to 4.25%, they have put more information on their website about the rates and how they impact each customer class, and they have notified ERCOT in writing that they do intend to close the Dirty Deely plant by 2018.

I have four issues I want to raise. First, city council should and must increase STEP – the Saving Tomorrow’s Energy Program — which has been so successful. We did it once in 2009, setting a goal of 771 MWs by 2020 in energy reduction. If you look at the response to your questions by CPS Energy on October 14th, you will see that the existence of STEP is what is allowing CPS Energy to close the Dirty Deely coal plant. You should also know that CPS Energy will already meet half of their 2020 goal by the end of the year. We are meeting the goal faster and at a lower cost than expected.

Now is the time to increase the goal. THe original Kema study found that you could meet 1200 MWs of demand reduction by 2020 –economically and technically. It was feasible. Let’s do this, and raise the goals and increase all of the programs, including community solar.

Second, as part of this goal, CPS Energy must redouble its efforts to weatherize homes. 6000 homes a year is good, but it is only a start and the goal should be doubled and CPS Energy must work with SAWS to do gas, electric and water conservation at the same time.

Third, CPS ENergy should look at tiered rates. In Austin, we just went through a rate case and are doing five tiered rates. That may be too much and too complicated, but going from one rate to three rates depending on the amount used would be a good start. At the very least, City Council should direct CPS Energy to conduct a study on tiered rates to see its impacts on affordability, revenues and energy use.

Finally, and this is really independent of the rate discussion, City COuncil should and must update San Antonio’s energy code. Austin has done it, Houston is doing it and San Antonio must do it. San Antonio is currently under the 2009 IECC code and going to the 2012 IECC codes would save 10 to 15% in energy costs for the average homeowner. This is an action City Council could take that would lower the impact of any proposed rate increase.”

We hope City Council and CPS Energy does the right thing, and require significant new investments in conservation, energy efficiency, community solar and demand response before any rate increase is approved. Stay tuned…

Gasland 2 Screenings Coming to Texas


If you live in Dallas, Fort Worth or San Antonio you are in for quite a treat next week. The much-anticipated sequel to 2010’s Gasland will see special screenings here in the Lone Star State. These three aforementioned cities will receive the special treatment with a Q&A session with filmmaker Josh Fox as well as rumors that Gasland interviewees will be in attendance at the Fort Worth screening.

The best part? These screenings are all free and completely open to the public. Whether or not this is an issue that you have been following for years now or are just becoming exposed to it, this is a great opportunity for community members to come together and educate themselves around this polemic issue.

These screenings come right off the heels of a monumental gas drilling victory in Dallas as well as the recent lawsuit against Exxonmobil for contaminating more than 50,000 gallons of water in western Pennsylvania. The fight against fracking appears to be picking up steam here in the US.

In fact, just last week more news from the mill show threats to communities in northern Colorado, as several activists in Boulder County were posting photos of flooded frack wells to their facebook site. These groups have expressed concerns towards a lack of oversight of drilling wells near their community as well as industry efforts to cover up the risk of contamination.

“Our concern is that all of these sites contain various amounts of hazardous industrial wastes that are now capable of spilling into the waterways and onto the agricultural land. Many of these chemicals are carcinogenic, neurotoxic, and known disruptors of the human endocrine system. As of today there is no testing taking place, industrial, independent or otherwise to determine the extent of the contamination, nor any talk of it. And one can guarantee that this week the COGCC will be issuing more drilling permits even as the hydrocarbons flow into the rivers.” – East Boulder County United spokesperson Cliff Willmeng.

According to an August 2013 poll released by The Guardian, a whopping 76% of Americans are worried about the potentially hazardous effects of natural gas drilling. This trend appears to indicate growing support in anti-fracking policies spreading throughout the United States.

The fact that these screenings take place in Texas cities where fracking is already happening goes to show that Americans are really starting to question the safety hydraulic fracturing.

Here’s a quick snippet of what Josh Fox had to say of his film:

“‘Gasland 2’ features real people -ordinary Americans- whose lives have been upended by the dirty and dangerous process of fracking. That’s why I am working with environmental leaders and advocates across the country to protect our health, water, climate and landscapes and to prevent state and federal governments from allowing a path to destruction.”

Texas is just one several of states hit by recent fracking operations – including Pennsylvania, New York State, Colorado, Wyoming, Oklahoma, Arkansas, North Dakota and Louisiana.

Concerned San Antonio Residents Call for Plastic Bag Ban

Plastic bag banning reusable bag picSan Antonio’s economy has remained steady and prosperous by successfully attracting new businesses and helping existing companies grow. The City has focused on creating new employment opportunities in 21st century industries, maintaining a great quality of life, and facilitating business growth at the local and international level.  This is a city working to improve itself. San Antonio has made great strides in terms of supporting clean energy, investing in the SA River Improvements Project (SARIP), and expanding its public transit system. However City officials are lagging behind when it comes to protecting the city’s beauty by fighting plastic bag pollution. 

One very serious and expensive environmental problem that San Antonio is facing at the moment is pollution from plastic bags.  Single-use checkout bags have harmful impacts on the environment and drain tax dollars as well.  Even more, San Antonio residents use more than 1.6 billion plastic bags every single year.  At least 80% of these end up in landfills or as litter. While stores don’t charge for the bags, city taxpayers pay for a variety of pollution impacts. They cause damage to recycling facilities, and despite the fact that they are about 1% of the waste stream they cost recyclers as much as 30% of their labor time. They cost local residents as much as 1.3 million a year to control their pollution, and they disproportionately affect low income communities who have fewer resources for pollution control, less recycling and more fragile infrastructure. That 1.3 million could be helping lower income neighborhoods, but instead is being wasted on plastic bag pollution. Even more money is spent on state and federal clean-up efforts, and it is impossible to put a dollar value on the impacts to wildlife killed by plastic bags. It’s clear that convenient plastic bags are not worth the damage that comes with them.

San Antonio’s City Council is now considering a ban on plastic bags at retail checkouts. Several cities across the state have already taken action against single-use bags. The cities of Brownsville, Fort Stockton, Austin, South Padre, and three others in Texas have seen dramatic decreases in bag litter since they passed local ordinances on checkout bags. Because of this supporters and members of the Sierra Club Alamo Group, Texas Campaign for the Environment, and Environment Texas joined with residents of San Antonio to soundly express support for a full ban on single-use plastic bags in San Antonio.   Residents testified during the “Citizen’s to be Heard” portion of the June 12th City Council meeting, and no action was taken by council.   However efforts are still being made, on June 21st the Blacknote Galleria showed a screening of “Bag It!”, an insightful documentary on the overuse of plastic, to help increase awareness and support for the issue.  Here at the Sierra Club we are asking supporters of a ban to contact their city council members and to express their support of a ban at City Council meetings. The City Council Governance Committee will likely hear the issue sometime in August or September, so be sure to contact your council person before then.  San Antonio residents deserve a clean city and so they must press their City Council to pass an ordinance ensuring that action is taken to solve this problem.

Plastic bags are a hot topic, not just in Texas but all over the country and in a few others. The main topic of conversation seems to be the paper vs. plastic debate.  There are a lot of interesting sides to the argument but I believe this one has a winning conclusion. Ultimately the real fight isn’t against plastic bags but rather doing what is right for the environment. Banning plastic bags is one step towards protecting the environment and protecting our future. It’s rare that we recognize a problem from the very start. Rivers used to be dumpsters until we realized that polluting was harmful to our drinking water.  Fields used to be ours for the taking until we realized over-farming was damaging to the integrity of soil. And plastic bags will be used for our convenience until we realize they are hurting our environment.

Written By:  Christina Farrell

San Antonio Sets Example for Water Conservation in Texas

Nearly all of the water in San Antonio’s famed River Walk is recycled water. (Image credit: http://www.visitsanantonio.com)

As the world collectively peers into its magic crystal ball (which totally exists), most observers see a future ridden with serious environmental issues that will be difficult to manage – especially if meaningful action isn’t taken immediately. While many of these threats (like those of climate change) are global in nature, the degree to which different parts of the world are affected will vary. Texas’ future, for example, promises to be very difficult due to an increase in drought conditions coupled with a rapidly growing population – factors that will inevitably lead to a decrease in freshwater resources. Indeed, we are already experiencing difficulty in providing ample water resources to satisfy the state’s residential, commercial, and ecological needs – a fact that emphasizes the importance of water conservation, moving forward. Fortunately, San Antonio (the state’s second largest city) has taken on a leadership role in the state by successfully implementing aggressive water conservation measures through its public water utility, San Antonio Water System (SAWS).

Through a variety of incentives, educational initiatives, restrictions, and water recycling measures, the city manages to use roughly the same amount of water that it used in 1984, despite a 67% increase in population.

Much of this success can be attributed to its incentives for large-scale commercial water users, who represent 50% of the city’s water consumption despite being only 10% of the customer base. These incentives, which foot significant portions of the bill for water-saving retrofits, have been popular for businesses in San Antonio since they provide for high post-installation savings that typically allow businesses to get a quick return on their investment. For example, Frito-Lay’s plant in San Antonio undertook a $1.4 million dollar retrofit in 2003, for which it received a nearly $265,000 rebate; the retrofits also save the company roughly $138,000 per year, which means it likely recouped its investment in 2011. Most importantly, the plant’s retrofits have saved 43 million gallons of water per year and have even helped the company increase potato chip production. Other successful commercial water conservation programs include a rebate program for restaurants that has gotten 40% of San Antonio restaurants to lower their water usage, and a hotel rebate program which seeks to minimize the impact of the city’s bustling tourism industry on water resources.

SAWS has also implemented several impressive residential conservation programs like the Plumbers to People program, which provides free repairs to leaky plumbing for low-income San Antonians. Another effective initiative has been their High-Efficiency Toilet Program, which distributes new low-water toilets to customers with wasteful toilets. Both programs are very cost-effective and are praised for their ability to integrate low-income customers into SAWS’ conservation efforts. Most importantly, however, they save over 3 billion gallons of water per year.

Furthermore, much of the water that the city does use is eventually recycled. After being processed at a water treatment plant, it is commonly used for the irrigation of parks and golf courses, in cooling towers, and in industrial processes. Perhaps the most surprising use of recycled water, however, is for the replenishment of San Antonio’s famed River Walk.

Through these programs, San Antonio has made significant progress in reducing per capita water use from a high of 225 gallons per day in the mid-1980s to a low of 136 gallons per day, with a final goal of 116 gallons per day by 2016. Achieving further reductions in water use will become increasingly difficult, however, since opportunities to pick the ‘low-hanging fruit’ of conservation measures will become less abundant. Regardless, with more time to develop (and aided by progress in technology and policy, as well as phase-outs of water-guzzling coal plants), these programs will go a long way in securing water for San Antonio’s future.

Oh, and, it will surely help to have a mayor that describes water conservation as being “part and parcel of being a San Antonian.”

By Diego Atencio