CPS, Sprawl and Solar: SA's sustainable report card 

click to enlarge The 40 MW Alamo 1 in South San Antonio - OCI SOLAR
  • OCI Solar
  • The 40 MW Alamo 1 in South San Antonio
click to enlarge sa_20141126_cover.jpg

It's hard to realistically plan for life in San Antonio 26 years into the future. By 2040, every current player in a Spurs jersey will be long retired, seven presidential elections will have passed and—at the current rate of production—19 new iPhone models will be introduced into and phased out of consumer pockets.

Meanwhile, the global temperature will flirt with the 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit target, the international high-water mark for limiting our impact on the planet.

For San Antonio, 2040 is the year to beat for sustainable practices. As a key tenet of Mayor Ivy Taylor's comprehensive plan for 2040, SA's sustainability report card will help determine where we are on a national level, as a clean environment and energy sources become even more vital to civic life in a fast-changing world.

Headed by District 8 Councilman Ron Nirenberg, Dr. Afamia Elnakat of UTSA and Darryl Bird of SA 2020, the sustainability-steering committee will determine the city's route to green living, informed by business groups and public participation. "And not just public input," says Nirenberg, "but actually citizens driving the effort and creating the vision for the city as they've done with SA 2020, which is the starting point for comprehensive planning." 

In 2014, San Antonio is in a healthy infancy for sustainable energy. Despite crude oil selling at a ridiculously cheap $80 per barrel and the boom in Texas fracking, CPS Energy has renewables and low-carbon sources on its mind. At the end of 2013, CPS had 1,154 megawatts of clean energy operating, with a total of 1,517 MW confirmed and contracted. With SA 2020's goal of 1,500 MW of renewable by 2020, CPS is well ahead of its clean curve.

When CPS states that it has 1,154 MW of clean energy, that's in capacity. "Capacity is the maximum amount we have available to us in megawatts," says Tracy Hamilton, project manager at CPS Energy.

SA's green capacity receives power from three main sources: solar, wind and landfill gas collection. Drive about 10 miles south of Southtown and you'll come across Alamo 1, 445 acres dedicated to photovoltaic solar harvesting. Photovoltaic panels are the deep blue and square-hatched lattices that come to mind when you think solar farm, tanning in the Texas heat to convert sunlight to direct current electricity.

With the San Antonio skyline a faint dot in the distance, Alamo 1 generates a max of 40 MW, 10 percent of the contracted 400 MW of solar boosting the city's renewable plan.

Just within Loop 1604 on the Southwest side, the Nelson Gardens and Covel Gardens collect up to 9.6 MW of power. A nice image for a nasty business, the "gardens" collect methane as organic material decomposes inside the 277-acre landfill that closed over two decades ago. So, your tossed leftovers from the '90s could help reheat the leftovers of today.

With the largest impact of any purely green source, wind makes up 1,059 MW of energy routed to San Antonio. With eight wind farms operating in the valley, Central and West Texas, these king-size pinwheels—generating up to 1.5 MW each—put a serious dent in SA's energy demand.

At 13.7 percent of the total capacity of 8,097 MW, CPS' 1,154 MW of squeaky-clean energy is bolstered by the industrial-strength and relatively clean sources of nuclear and natural gas. Including peaking units—the overtime plants that kick in to generate extra energy during times of max usage—natural gas accounts for 3,632 MW, or 44.8 percent of total capacity.

Carbon-free, cheap and increasingly safe, nuclear plants have modified their preventive and response plans since the Fukushima disaster, more J. Robert Oppenheimer than Homer J. Simpson. In Wadsworth, Texas, 90 minutes south of Houston, CPS owns a 40 percent share in the twin, bulb-shaped plants of the South Texas Project nuclear station. The 1,080 MW of carbon-free electricity provided by the STP generator creates 13.3 percent of SA's energy supply.

Coal, the plentiful and heavy pollutant, still represents a black-stained page in the SA energy portfolio, at 27 percent of total capacity. But CPS plans to deactivate the two-unit, coal-fired Deely plant by 2018, reducing reliance on the cheap, sooty stuff. "Our CEO [Doyle Beneby] has been super progressive, seeing the low-carbon future," says Hamilton. "That we will likely never build another coal plant. He decided we were going to shutter our oldest and dirtiest units 15 years ahead of schedule." 



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