Déjà vu with CPS/NRG talks

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By Michael Barajas

mbarajas@sacurrent.com

With city-owned CPS Energy looking at proposals from NRG Energy to possibly buy deeper into a proposed nuclear plant expansion, local and Austin-based activists are feeling déjà vu. “We wish CPS would have learned the lesson it should have learned a year ago. I wish we didn’t have to go through this again,” Cindy Weehler, of the anti-nuclear group Energía Mía, said Tuesday on the steps of City Hall. After getting clearance from the CPS Energy Board of Trustees las week, CEO Doyle Beneby is now planning to entertain proposals that would once again throw CPS and NRG into a deeper partnership, priming the city to either further invest in the group’s two new South Texas Project reactors or agree to a long-term power purchasing deal. Opponents are perplexed the talks are even happening, given the rocky, and recent, history between CPS and NRG. Just a year ago, an equal partnership between the two over the proposed nukes imploded in a $32-billion lawsuit amid allegations of fraud and manipulation on NRG’s part. As a result, CPS divested itself down to a 7-percent stake in the project. “CPS knew of the costs then, but our mayor did not. The public did not. We were being duped by CPS and NRG,” said Maria Berriozábal, former councilmember and opponent of any new CPS/NRG deal. “CPS spent $6.1 million of our money to get out of the partnership with NRG. Now CPS is discussing signing a contract with the same company, as if its fraudulent, defamatory and illegal actions are now of no concern,” Berriozábal said. “Any company should be hesitant to get involved in NRG.” While she said talks with San Antonio city leaders showed “no excitement” for any new deal, Karen Hadden, director for Texas clean-energy group SEED Coalition, remarked that she’s worried NRG could try to push a partnership through. Confident NRG could receive billions in federal loan guarantees for the project, company spokesman David Knox told the Current last week that NRG has promised shareholders it would round up clients to buy at least 1,000 megawatts before building the reactors. A deal with CPS would certainly boost NRG’s chances at getting more fish to bite, Knox recognized. Hadden, who has worked to combat any sort of Austin power-buying deal, said the company wants the city to agree to a power purchase agreement between 500 and 800 megawatts. Though no details have emerged from NRG and CPS discussions here, Hadden said she expects a similar proposal in San Antonio. So far, Austin hasn’t taken the bait, and Hadden, Berriozábal and others are hoping San Antonio doesn’t either. Noting that NRG could have a lot riding on a San Antonio deal, Hadden said, “Our concern is these talks just came up so quickly. We’re worried that serious arm-twisting could occur to push this thing through.”

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