After months of tippy-toeing around the issue, on June 23, City Public Service staff finally announced that it wants to build a new coal-fired power plant. It would be the third such plant in San Antonio, and would be located near the Spruce and Deeley Units at Calaveras Lake on the City's beleagered Southeast Side.

For months, there have been private mumblings and CPS pow-wows to discuss the controversial project, including a May 13 Southeast Quadrant Citizens' Advisory Board meeting that was closed to the media and the public. (The utility's lawyers claim that because the board members are volunteers, those meetings don't fall under the Open Meetings Act, conveniently allowing CPS to discuss controversial issues while hiding behind the skirt of a citizens' group.)

But on June 23, the CPS board (except for the conspicuously absent ex-oficio member Mayor Ed Garza) did very little talking and took a lot of notes.

"It is very important that you listent to the citizens," said T.C. Calvert, a member of Neighborhood First Alliance, and East Side group. "We want you to invest in fuel cells, make a financial commitment to wind and solar. Let's get off the addiction to coke."

If the board approves the plant at its June 30 meeting, CPS staff will apply to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality for permission to build it. The plant could cost between $750 million and $1 billion, and could start producing power in 2008.

More than half the crowd of about 150 people at Wheatly Middle School opposed the proposed plant and asked CPS for a 180-day moratorium. "What is the rush?" asked Karen Hadden of the SEED Coalition, an Austin-based environmental group that also has members in San Antonio. "This is a massive investment."

During that time, residents want the utility to provide a cost-benefit analysis, a projection of the type and amount of chemicals the new plant would spew, and how those contaminants would add to the pollution load already exhaled by the existing plants.

Deeley, whose units were built in 1977 and 1978, doesn't have "scrubbers," which are additional, modern pollution controls to keep contaminants out of the air.

A review of TCEQ records shows that the Deeley plants have exceeded standards for opacity - meaning particulate matter is thick in the air and light can only partially penetrate it - more than 6,000 times from 2000 to 2002. The standard is based on six-minute intervals; if opacity exceeds 20 percent for that amount of time, the TCEQ considered an exceedance. These exceedances occur most often during a unit's startup or shutdown.

Many residents echoed each other, asking CPS to examine and invest the millions of dollars to renewable energy sources and conservation measures.

"We need to look at the alternatives," said Jerry Morrisey, who served on the SAWS conservation board. "If we commit to the coal project that will coopt other options. It will prevent us from going to a fuel-based economy.

"At SAWS, we helped San Antonio reduce its water consumption by a third. You should empower people to do things to help their homes become more energy efficient."

Austin has saved 500 megawatts of power - about two-thirds of the energy the new plant would produce - in a green-building and energy efficient programs. Hadden said these savings preempted the need for Austin to build another coal plant.

Proponents of the plant, including the San Antonio Manufacturers Association and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 500 (which represents CPS employees) commended CPS for keeping rates low and diversifying its energy sources; their comments often sounded like statements from CPS brochures.

"CPS has environmentally sound electric generation. The path CPS has taken is one that works," said the manufacturers association's Michael Harris. "Renewable energy is not that reliable. The wind doesn't always blow."

However, other energy sources are also unreliable. The unstable and currently astronomical price of natural gas prompted CPS' proposed 30 percent rate hike. CPS has had to rely more on natural gas this summer because the South Texas Nuclear Project's Unit 1 been down for several months for repairs. CPS receives about 28 percent of its energy from the nuclear plant, and Unit 1 could be running by the end of the summer. Unit 2 continues to operate.

Ches Blevins of the euphemistically named Americans for Balanced Energy Sources - a front for the coal industry - credited coal for keeping rates down, and in turn, attracting industry to San Antonio. "It's inexpensive, reliable, and incredibly clean."

Several of the City's asthma sufferers disagree. Many East Side residents complained of chronic breathing problems due to the city's bad air. While cars are the primary source of air pollution, according to environmental group Public Citizen, CPS is the culprit among industrial sources. The power plants account for two-thirds of nitrous oxide emissions, one of the pollutants regulated by the state and federal governments.

There is an environmental justice component to the plants, as the South and East Sides often find polluting industries prefer to locate in their back yards.

"CPS is doing a great injustice in this city," said East Side resident Rasul Amenhotep, concerned about the environmental effects of coal-burning plants. "Build it at the Dominion, Alamo Heights, Terrell Hills and see what kind of ruckus you raise." •

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