No crystal ball for CPS Energy; it must do what is prudent
During the 1990s, as a former CPS Energy board member for more than eight years, I enjoyed a front-row seat to the evolution of our gas and electric utility.
At that time, climate change was not in our everyday vernacular. Coal, natural gas and nuclear were our only diversification until we made the first purchase of wind-generated power out of West Texas.
Today, climate change is at the top of public discourse. Utilities across the nation are diversifying generation portfolios as they face the uncertainty of new technologies and the ever-changing demands of more conscientious consumers.
San Antonio is fortunate to have CPS Energy leading the way in that evolution and at the same time keeping our utility rates low and planning for future energy demands.
In a move forward, CPS recently closed a coal-powered plant. The remaining Spruce units will be closed after their useful life cycle. CPS Energy also is using an abundance of low-cost natural gas produced in our area, a source of energy that has a low emission. And the South Texas Project nuclear power plant in Bay City is another source of clean energy, further diversifying CPS Energy’s portfolio.
In a major step forward, CPS Energy is now a national leader in solar and wind generation. But as important as its use of renewable energy is the utility’s record in conservation. CPS Energy is on track to save 771 megawatts of energy by 2020 — the same output as a large power plant.
It has accomplished this through encouraging the use of energy-efficient appliances, lighting and programmable thermostats; introducing demand response programs for business and residential customers; and working with businesses to upgrade old lighting and HVAC systems.
President and CEO Paula Gold-Williams has introduced the next progressive strategy, the Flexible Path, which incorporates more renewable energy sources, storage for that energy and a continuation of energy-efficiency measures among residential and business customers.
The actions of CPS Energy have resulted in a 75 percent reduction in nitrogen oxide emissions since 1997. Overall as a benefit, 65 percent of CPS Energy’s generation portfolio now comes from low-carbon sources, including natural gas, with 20 percent renewable energy capacity.
Looking to the future, Gold-Williams has to base her decisions on information that is available to us today. There are no crystal balls. She has to look upon an uncertain landscape of technology, renewable energy generation and storage, and a growing community to formulate a plan that balances the needs and wants of divergent interests.
While CPS Energy is meticulously investing in research and development of solar generation and energy storage, it would be wholly irresponsible to commit CPS Energy to a lofty goal by an arbitrary date without considering the financial ramifications to customers and this community.
So as we look to the energy future of San Antonio and talk about the concerns of climate change, I think it is prudent to remember how far our utility has come to be an industry leader in renewable generation and the research and development needed to be the utility we should all be proud to own.
Gold-Williams is providing a path forward that is secure, safe, reliable, resilient, environmentally conscious and ultimately affordable. She is keeping our rates affordable, providing reliable and safe energy 24/7/365 and is investing in the future of our utility.
Nelson W. Wolff is Bexar County judge. He has represented Bexar County in various political offices since 1971, when he was elected to the Texas House.