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Nuke Collider: San Antonio delays $400 million nuke bond vote over Toshiba cost surge

Greg Harman

gharman@sacurrent.com

After what can only be considered a sustained Certified Sales Event by CPS Energy matched by Mammoth Media Buildup, Thursday's would-have-been $400 million bond vote â?? a vote that, in essence, puts San Antonio on an irreversible date with an estimated $13 billion project â?? has been postponed for January.

A new cost estimate from Toshiba got CPS officials inot a sweat about two weeks ago, but the “substantial cost increase” didn't trickle down to Mayor Julián Castro's ear until last night.

At an afternoon press conference, CPS Energy's Interim GM Steve Bartley said the vote delay sends Toshiba a “clear signal” that “these preliminary cost estimates must come down in order for us to meaningfully participate in this project going forward.” However, he wouldn't say want Toshiba's new cost estimate is.

For Council members, the vote delay was not a negotiation tactic. Councilman Justin Rodriquez had been lined up in the “aye” column for the $400-million vote but said the news reveals a serious “chink in CPS's armour.” That it is, perhaps, “a mixed blessing.”

“We need to take a step back and look at all the options, including continued investment in renewables,” Rodriquez said.

Perfect timing to review a fact still lost on most residents â?? and, apparently, many of our elected officials â?? that we have alternatives capable of delivering the needed 500 megawatts by 2020.

Developed by a team of international energy experts, the report, San Antonio: Leading the Way Forward to the Third Industrial Revolution lays out in broad brushes a way to meet future energy needs, save utility customers a collective $3 billion by 2030, and create, on average, 10,000 jobs a year in a stimulated “green-collar” revolution.


With one day to go before the big vote, one would expect the mayor and a gaggle of our city council members would have huddled around the speakerphone and pumped the report's authors for details.
 On a teleconference last week, a key author said he wasn't so popular. Had any of our county or city reps rung him up? “Surprisingly, no. Surprisingly, no,” said Jeremy Rifkin, an adviser to the European Union on renewable energy issues.

So exactly what is the city doing, besides not studying the alternatives?

CPS staff, non-nuke-committed council members, and community organizers from COPS-Metro Alliance were hammering out a deal for increased weatherization programs for low-income residents â?? all intended to deliver to Mayor Julián Castro his requested unanimous nuke vote.

CPS Board Member Steve Hennigan fretted Monday about poor folks gaming the system.

Pointing out that .3 percent of customer bills are never paid and have to be written off, Hennigan said: “These kinds of programs, in my opinion, they can become very abused very quickly once people figure out what it takes to get it.” Funny, considering this is the same utility hoping to cut out a power plant's worth of energy through conservation measures in over the next decade.

Councilman Jennifer Ramos, until today one of three confirmed nuke skeptics, said her doubts have increased with the news from Japan. “There are a lot more questions to be asked,” she said.

With the bond-vote delay, Mr. 9.5-percent rate hike? You've been pushed back too. See you around in the spring.

I harkened back to Bob Rivard's column of July 26, in which he promised a slew of Sunday project stories on nuclear. On many points, they delivered the goods. While I've been slithering around inspecting nuclear power's legacy's, they've worked City Hall and CPS back rooms like nobody's business. But one of Rivard's key promises (the middle one, by my lights) has yet to materialize.

From his July column:

â?¢ Will the mayor and council rubber-stamp CPS' plans or take an independent look at expansion? Castro is using the council's Aug. 12 B session to host a town hall meeting on the subject.

â?¢ What alternative energy programs could CPS and the city pursue with the estimated $5.2 billion it will cost San Antonio for a 40 percent interest in the proposed $10 billion STP expansion?

â?¢ Conservation as a means to reduce our energy use. CPS' Save for Tomorrow Energy Plan, or STEP, is supposed to save 771 megawatts, the equivalent of an entire power plant, by 2020. Are we on track? What can we learn from other cities?

So, another opportunity. Come on Express-News: Break open the clean-energy future that could be for your readers. Toshiba designed a perfect window for ya.

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