Are you Hearing this? CPS seeks your dollars for green

However much you wish it, don't expect Clamp to go along quietly on this.

Greg Harman

[email protected]

It's for the good, so why do I feel so bad?

CPS Energy comes before a city freshened up by its weekend election. We've cut off the dead weight, corralled up some new blood, and are all ready to sleep, gossip, and drink (responsibly) until the next political spectacle.

Then, Kapow! CPS Energy requests a rate increase.

Like I said: It's for the good.

The utility is seeking to shave off 771 megawatts from the city's electrical usage by 2020. To accomplish that, they need (give or take a million) $849 million.

Think of it this way, instead of building another coal plant, we're going to (with your permission, of course) reduce our energy use by a coal plant's worth of energy, instead. No pollution, no mess.

The city's utility would like to bill for the new "plant" through that obtuse little notch on your utility bill called “fuel surcharge.” That's typically where the bills are padded to pay for the rollercoastering natural gas prices month to month.

For my part, I'd gladly give it â?? and more. I mean, I use like 60 kilowatt-hours per month. Under the proposed Save for Tomorrow Energy Plan, or STEP, I'd be paying a fraction of a cent this year and a nickel in fiscal '10.

You on the other hand, if you are anything like the typical San Antonian, can expect to pay 24 cents this year for your 1,000 kilowatt hours. You'll cough up a whooping 79 cents the next. â??Course you can cut it back even further by putting some of your own conservation measures into the mix.

Here's insight on how CPS would implement the pay structure.

`And the city's finance department's analysis.`

With that money, CPS will implement all manner of energy efficiency projects, including weatherization of 2,000 homes per year (or more), providing 3,000 Energy Star appliances (or more) per year, and setting aside $3 million for home insulation programs per annum.

The shift will transform the current weatherization program from one staffed by employee volunteers to one using professional contractors, said Bruce Evans, CPS's director of customer solutions and energy delivery.

Two thousand (or more) homes per year will get reinsulated, screwed up with CFL bulbs and an assortment of Energy Star appliances in a “very, very comprehensive program,” to quote Evans.

“We already have some new programs in place for this next year. We want to ramp up the solar rebates as far as the cap â?? we want to lift the cap,” said Evans, adding that a popular commercial-lighting retrofit program would also be brought back to life under STEP.

“It's not open right now, much to the chagrin of many,” he says, laughing.

Solar rebates will also blossom under STEP.

While they'd reanimate the $3 per watt rebate rate, CPS plans to increase the amount they'd pay out each year in solar rebates. Before they fell under a budget ax earlier this year, rebates allowed $10,000 and $50,000 per year for residential and commercial systems, respectively.

That would grow to $30,000 to $100,000 per year, under STEP.

And that's where I start to begrudge it all a bit.

I mean, the 3.5 percent rate increase approved by council last year (of the requested 5-percent) was itself intended to help expand efficiency and renewable rebate programs, we were told.

The utility set up its solar rebate and lighting retrofit programs without a rate increase. Then it allowed the programs to die this year â?? the best thing a utility can do to discourage growth of clean-tech industries, this bait-and-switch.

It didn't come to council for a rate increase to pay out $276 million into prepping applications and doing design work for a proposed nuclear expansion at Bay City. But the power of efficiency? That's gonna cost us.

Some blame the Council for pushing the matter back after the election, a move that allowed the programs to drift like a body on the water. We'll see what the out-cycling and retained council members have to say about it. I've heard mixed feelings in the environmental camp.

Show up at the council chambers on Thursday and speak your peace. (Item 6)

Councilman John Clamp expressed extreme skepticism when he and I spoke a couple weeks back.

“There's a very strong push to push conservation in this town, and that's a good thing. What always concerns me is, who is going to pay for it,” Clamp said.

“What you're seeing is a push from a select few to get this throughout San Antonio, to fund these programs. And I'm saying, â??Well, wait a minute, let's maybe do a one or two or three-year program voluntary, education, training. Let's see what kind of impact that has on our capacity and our usage before we go into a full-fledged rate increase to pay for these things.”

So while your attendance may help bring a little light to the situation, you can expect some heat to develop, as well.

I'm not as dubious about the ability of efficiency measures to displace power plants as Councilman Clamp. I am cut, however, by CPS's shutting down their rebate programs â?? holding them hostage, essentially â?? to add leverage to their request for this funding mechanism.

It would have been a lot easier to go along with had they been a good steward with what they had started already.


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