At 10 a.m. yesterday, it was still D-Day on the steps of City Hall.
Although City and CPS Energy staff were abuzz with news of a new inflated cost estimate for the expansion of the South Texas Project nuclear complex, it still was nearly six hours before Mayor JuliÃ¡n Castro would announce that a decision on whether or not to invest another $400 million into it would be delayed.
Before a small grouping of TV cameras, with the nuke vote widely believed to be in the bag, Peggy Day read an open letter to the Council: “We'd like to send a warning to you as the city council that you can expect a fight if you try raising our bills. We are concerned about your reckless plans to expand the South Texas Nuclear plant."
The loose coalition of anti-nuke activists and representatives from area communities outside San Antonio warned they would soon be collecting signatures to fight any nuke-related rate hikes before the Texas Public Utility Commission.
When news broke later that day that the two planned reactors may cost an additional $4 billion, however, even the most pro-nuke councilmembers were expressing â?? if not an enthusiasm for dumping nuclear â?? an openness to exploring alternative paths.
Today, one of the committed pro-nuclear members told me: “We are not happy."
Councilmember Elisa Chan compared the situation to shopping for a new house â?? “in Stone Oak,” of course. Suddenly you find out that the very nice $240,000 home, in fact, costs an additional 30 percent more.
“It's still a nice house â?¦ but maybe you can't afford it,” she said.
Affordability is one thing, trust is another. And, in this case, the trust between CPS and the City Council was severely tested.
While members of CPS's upper management had known about the new, inflated figures for almost two weeks, the facts only came to the Mayor and Council's attention by a chance conversation the night before the scheduled $400-million vote.
Councilman John Clamp insisted the project would “work itself out,” but San Antonio Mayor JuliÃ¡n Castro (left) is already preparing a policy response intended to bring “an infusion of transparency” to the City-owned utility.
“I'm crafting an action plan that includes a series of measures to determine what happened in this instance and begin changing the organizational culture at CPS and enhancing transparency,” Castro told the Current today.
And from the heads-will-roll department, he offered: “There's no question folks should be held accountable, but only by review of what happened can we size up the accountability question.”
Beyond the good-old-boys network that Castro hopes to begin dismantling, reform must also come to the technological side, he said.
“CPS needs an infusion of transparency and an appreciation for the new energy landscape and embracing of it. It has an appreciation of the dollars and sense, which is great, but less so of the public trust and the changing energy landscape.”
But the big question is: Can San Antonio afford a $17-billion nuke?
“That will be determined in the next couple of weeks. To the extent that we're looking at a multi-billion increase, there's no question that is not affordable," Castro said. "If the facts require us taking Option B, we'll take Option B.”
Option B is a mix of natural gas and more aggressive renewable-energy development, he said.
Toshiba double-guessing aside, it's important not to lose sight of the “domestic” threat to the project. While STP is one of the nation's top-rated applications pending before the U.S. NRC, challenges to the plan have been accepted at the federal level. And assuming the project comes back into affordability range, opponents like Peggy Day and those gathered on the City Hall steps earlier yesterday morning are bound and determined to put whatever drag on the project they can.
The open letter to Council regarding the possible PUC pleading concludes: “An appeal would take a minimum of 180 days and more likely two years, during which time the CPS' ability to repay the bonds the city is about to authorize would be uncertain, leading to greater instability to sell the bonds and their pricing.”
Weren't they threatening to hold the city hostage, I asked a Public Citizen representative. “It's more like we're holding them accountable,” replied Sarah McDonald.
Along with Day's, other names on the letter include former and current Hondo City Council members, residents of La Coste and Bexar County, and Leon Valley Mayor Chris Riley.
Earlier this month, the Hondo City Council has passed a resolution opposing the expansion of STP and supporting renewable energy and conservation. Though Leon Valley Mayor Chris Riley couldn't be reached by close-of-business today, the almost weekly protests in San Antonio have begun to spread.
Below is a video segment from recent action in Georgetown.
Oh, and if you want a dose of what we look like from the Climate Progress perspective, check out their post: 'Looks like a job for clean energy.'