CPS: â??Dude, where's my $40 million in green energy?' and other obvious questions

Greg Harman

[email protected]

Here's a $5.5-billion-dollar question for you: What happened to revenue gained from the 2008 electricity rate hike?

If you recall, city-owned CPS Energy was asking for a five-percent rate hike. It was their first such request in more than a dozen years. It had obviously been so long since they needed something from City Hall that they forgot how to ask nice.

All kinds of irritation followed and several city leaders expressed exasperation at how difficult it was to get straight answers from the utility.

Some San Antonians were wary about the hike money flying out an open window into a vacuum for ill-defined nuclear-expansion purposes. Bless their mistrustful, little hearts.

They pushed hard and got the Council to require that no part of the rate hike to go toward the expansion attempts for the South Texas Complex nuclear facility in Bay City.

CPS responded pragmatically that it would instead pull money from its capital budget “to pay its nuclear development obligations.”

“These include the filing of a combined construction and operation license application for STP Units 3 and 4 with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, refining a construction plan/cost estimate and reserving manufacturing slots for large equipment/components that have long lead times.”

(Kicking in for Japanese-made nuke shells before the city had agreed to follow along? but I'm straying.)

The rate-hike money, according to that same 2008 press release, would be used for completion of the Spruce II coal plant, pollution controls on existing plants, new substations and power lines, and a “boost in customer rebates and incentives from $96 million over a four-year-period to approximately $136 million over four years.”

The Council refused to approve the five-percent request, grudgingly offering a lesser 3.5-percent increase, instead.

A few months later, January of '09, almost all of those green rebate programs were closed due to "lack of funds."

What happened?

At the council's public hearing Monday night, CPS bosses will probably tell you that the eliminated 1.5 percent just happened to be the 1.5 percent the $40 million in green-energy dollars was going to be pulled from.

Possibly worse: The San Anto-based Consumers' Energy Coalition states in one of their questions that a CPS manager recently suggested those new funds were put in the capital budget (you're getting it now) where the nuke-development cash was being pulled from. Wacky taffy.

At least the question will finally be asked â?? in public â?? with an answer required.

One thing's for sure: All the dominant boosters and critics will get a turn. (Well, everyone but me. I'll cede by time to the cutest registered greenie on hand, I guess.)

Here's the running roster:

6:11 - 6:17 Sierra Club

6:18 - 6:24 Public Citizen Texas

6:25 - 6:31 Sustainable Energy and Economical Development Coalition

6:32 - 6:38 Consumers' Energy Coalition: Cindy Weehler

6:39 - 6:45 COPS/METRO: Paul Martinez

6:46 - 6:52 Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce: Richard Perez

6:53 - 6:59 San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce: Rolando Pablos

7:00 - 7:06 Greater San Antonio Chinese Chamber of Commerce: Dr. Jerry Jin

7:06 - 7:12 Business Community: George Kauss

7:13 - 7:19 Business Community: David Adelman

7:20 - 7:26 Business Community: Rick Villasana

7:27 - 7:33 Councilwoman Mary Alice Cisneros

7:34 - 7:40 Councilwoman Ivy Taylor

7:41 - 7:47 Councilwoman Jennifer Ramos

7:48 - 7:54 Councilman Philip Cortez

7:55 - 8:01 Councilman David Medina

8:02 - 8:08 Councilman Ray Lopez

8:09 - 8:15 Councilman Justin Rodriguez

8:16 - 8:22 Councilman Reed Williams

8:23 - 8:29 Councilwoman Elisa Chan

Mayor Castro's pressman says all questions already received will be answered by CPS (*though due to the large number of questions from the community, some will have to be answered after Monday's meeting... in writing.*)

Here are what may be the first three questions of the evening:

1. It is well known that there is routine radiation release from nuclear power plants. Has NRG or CPS ever conducted an objective study to determine whether there is an increased cancer risk within a 30 mile or so radius of the South Texas Nuclear Project units 1 and 2? Is CPS or NRG aware of any such studies conducted by the U.S. government or other entities?

2. After years of searching, Yucca Mountain was determined to be the best nuclear waste repository in the U.S. It is now deemed unsuitable and is no longer viable. CPS says it can store wastes from its nuclear units for 50 years in the close proximity of the population of Bay City. Many of the wastes are extremely hazardous for tens of thousands of years. Can CPS guarantee that a permanent, leakproof repository will be determined and available for its STNP wastes within 50 years?

3. CPS estimates the cost of the STNP expansion at $10/13 billion. Independent, objective sources calculate the capital cost for a plant the size of the STNP expansion to be $22 billion or possibly more. To give some perspective, the total 2008 earnings for ExxonMobil, the world's largest corporation, came to about $45 billion — a banner year for ExxonMobil.

The government of Ontario, Canada, has cancelled plans for two new reactors because the bid came in at $23.3 billion — almost $10,000 per kilowatt of electric generating capacity, with concentrated solar thermal comparatively low at $6,000 per kilowatt. How did CPS derive its $10/13 billion figure for the STNP expansion? Where are the calculations?

I think we're in for first-rate entertainment â?? with more than a dollop of revelation.

See you there.


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