The QueQue

Fission math
CPS’s leadership has unleashed its Nuke 2.0 public-relations campaign on San Anto. Salvo one: the pocketbook play, scores a direct hit.

Last week, CPS Energy’s top brass announced to its board of directors that the two-reactor expansion of the South Texas (Nuclear) Project will cost a mere $13 billion, financing included, a number that dovetailed nicely with the projections of its partner, NRG. Our share (if the two utilities are able to drop their 50 percent shares to 40 percent and bring in a third partner, as they hope to; Austin, you’ll recall, has declined) would be $5.2 billion. What a deal, right? Still, that’s $2 billion more than the current value of our utility.

Toward the end of the meeting, board members expressed the meekest of hesitations. Board Chair Aurora Geis stressed that with technologies developing as rapidly as they are, anything can still happen — an invitation for boosters of renewable power sources to hope that the STP expansion is not, in fact, a done deal.

The utility’s board also paled a bit at management’s plan to become a power supplier for greater South Texas by selling off the excess capacity produced by the additional reactors. Perhaps anticipating resistance, CPS GM Milton Lee and Acting GM (Formerly Acting GM?) Steve Bartley took on the CPS board directly in a July 1 story in nuke-booster partner the Express-News, in which they warn that should the board fail to allow the utility to grow into a merchant power operation, San Antonio customers would have to eat even higher bills.

According to CPS, San Anto’s power needs will surpass our available supply by 2020. Whatever the path forward — nuclear, wind, efficiency — rates will increase. But the QueQue can’t help but marvel at the failure of CPS’s leadership to project continued declines in the cost of renewable energy sources. Although we had been informed by a well-positioned CPS staffer that the just-signed solar thermal contract will cost CPS 17 cents per kilowatt hour, the Lee-Bartley presentation projected solar thermal costing from 17 centsup to 24 cents per kilowatt. Yet solar costs have been declining for years. Another bizarro-world assumption by the power duo has to do with greenhouse gases. According to their Powerpoint, the utility’s mandatory CO2 reductions under the federal climate bill being debated in Congress would be attained through Carbon Capture & Storage, technology that is still under development and unproven.

That’s 13 million tons of climate-disrupting greenhouse gases over the next 25 years being wagered on a question mark. However, according to the STP-expansion sales pitch, while new nukes would require rate hikes every other year through 2018, they would start saving CPS customers money afterwards, up to an estimated $20 on an average utility bill in 2034. Does maintaining the cheapest electricity in the state outweigh avoiding catastrophic climate change? Apparently so, amigos.

A public meeting re: the proposed STP expansion is scheduled in District 5, July 14, 6 p.m. (register to comment beginning at 5 p.m.; each speaker gets three minutes, which they can cede to another speaker), Progresso Hall, 1306 Guadalupe Street. The Nuke 2.0 Tour will schedule additional dates, which you can find online at (click on the big picture of the reactors).

Robbing Peter to pay for Paul?
If the Planning Commission was irritated that the City didn’t have its numbers in order for a June presentation on the sale of historic St. Paul Square to a subsidiary of the powerful Zachry Corp., maybe it’s because the deal has been in the works for some time. October 2008 minutes from the Inner City TIRZ board meeting report a presentation by Deputy City Manager Pat DiGiovanni, in which the five buildings, plus one-and-a-half acres on nearby Center Street are on the block in exchange for 37 acres elsewhere and $1.1 million in cash. Planning reportedly bumped the item — cheekily placed on the consent agenda — with instructions to COSA staff to return with concrete answers to their detailed questions.

Under the proposal, Zachry sub East Commerce Realty, which currently manages the St. Paul buildings through a 45-year lease with the City, would build and operate a parking garage on the Center Street site, financed in part with $2 million in Tax Increment Financing funds collected from the TIRZ on the condition that the public can use it (for the going market rate, as set by East Commerce Realty). The parking garage would help replace parking spaces that were lost when Zachry kin Jeff Rochelle built the nearby Vidorra condos, so there’s a nice symmetry to the plan.

DiGiovanni says it’s a good deal, even though all that future parking revenue would go to East Commerce Realty. The City would deed the 37 acres to Palo Alto College, which would promise to build a road on it, and the $1.1 million would be funneled into Community Development Block Grants for District 2.

The Deputy City Manager was scheduled to pitch these selling points to San Antonio NAACP President Marvinette Smith as the Current went to press, and DiGiovanni’s appointment came on the heels of a visit from the City Manager herself. Since Smith made a formal public statement opposing the sale at the Planning Commission and another public meeting, Smith says, “my calendar is beginning to be filled.” It’s the first time anyone from the City’s approached her about it, she said, although it’s no secret that St. Paul Square is historically significant to the African-American community.

“I don’t want to see the history of our black community washed away,” said Smith. “It’s more than buildings to those of us who are native San Antonians, because our grandfathers helped build and worked in those buildings.”

The QueQue inadvertently invited DiGiovanni to a Tuesday-night meeting hosted by District 2 Councilwoman Ivy Taylor, who hasn’t taken a position on the sale. There is a lot of confusion and misinformation concerning the deal, says D2 Council Aide Joshua Bailey: “Our main thing is making sure accurate information is given to the community, and then we will take feedback.”

A recent HUD assessment valued the property slightly higher than the City’s original estimates, and that’s just one detail that needs to be worked out before the proposal returns to the Planning Commission in August.

Check, mate
With the impending arrival of BRAC’s 12,600 new servicemembers and families `see “BRAC life support” June 10` and the proposed St. Paul deal, the East Side is fertile ground for cultivating political power — a fact which hasn’t escaped the notice of the current crop of council members. QueBlog observed last week that born-again District 1 rep Mary Alice Cisneros, who fended off a strong challenge from Chris Forbrich despite herself, is much more assertive this term. So much so that she’s been making eyes at one of the vacancies left by departing D2 Councilwoman Sheila McNeil: Chairmanship of the Inner City TIRZ, the taxing district with the power to collect and spend money throughout much of D2 and relatively tiny parts of Districts 1 and 5. The ratios are off, Cisneros’s office told the QueQue: Most of the cash is collected from D1 properties, but spent in D2 (e.g. $2 million in TIF funds for an Eastside parking garage). With this in mind, the QueQue couldn’t help but notice the way Cisneros interjected the Inner City TIRZ’s revenue potential into a District 1 Tobin Hill Community Association meeting last week.

But Cisneros’s office promised to defer to newly elected District 2 Councilwoman Ivy Taylor, whose office confirmed Monday that she is, indeed, interested in that seat.

Ah, well. Hang in there MAC, you’ll get yours.

A day with Mexicans
Politicians generally start mending fences before an election, but five full years ahead of his next electoral faceoff, Senator John Cornyn is making bipartisan eyes at the newly popular Dems, encouraging his Republican Senate colleagues to wait until Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s confirmation hearings are completed before they make up their minds about her, and requesting to meet with Texas Mexican American Legislative Caucus

At the Cornyn-MALC summit in Austin on July 1, the Senator patiently listened to Representative Veronica Gonzales (D-McAllen) as she told him about a woman in her district who is battling cancer and “is not poor enough for Medicaid and not old enough for Medicare.”

Cornyn, who’s been on some kind of health-care-themed PR tour of the state, said: “Texas unfortunately has the highest percentage of uninsured people in the country,” and cited such reasons as people not taking advantage of CHIP eligibility (much like the CHIP eligibility Governor Good Hair declined to extend this session), 20-somethings who think they’re invincible, and the rising cost of employee health insurance for small businesses. Both Cornyn and Gonzales referenced a recent New Yorker piece that investigated exorbitant health-care costs in McAllen, and indicated that doctors in that city pad their incomes by ordering excessive tests. “There are no easy answers, but we need to look at that,” Cornyn said.

But he fretted that a government health-care option would destroy competition and lead to more than 100 million Americans shifting from private to public health insurance. 

Cornyn and MALC Chair Trey Martinez Fischer agreed that a comprehensive approach to immigration reform is in order, and the senator reiterated his support for a guest-worker program. At a post-meeting press conference, QueBlog asked Cornyn how he currently views the border-wall issue. He responded: “We ought to yield to the advice of the experts. What the experts told us is that they needed `the Border Wall` as a part of what they needed for border security.” Cornyn also emphasized that the pro-border-wall bill he voted for was also supported by then-Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. 

If you’re not convinced that Cornyn is carving out a less partisan niche for himself, consider that he voluntarily uttered a sentence many members of his party would resist even when threatened with repeated waterboarding: “I congratulate Mr. Franken.” And he didn’t even snarl when he said it.

**This article has been corrected. The Tobin Hill Community Association was originally incorrectly identified as the Tobin Hill Neighborhood Association.

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