CPS Energy has invested in renewable energy such as solar, but environmentalists worry it’s also clinging to dirty coal.
City council may have given the second iteration of the city’s Climate Action and Adaption Plan a warm reception last week, but environmentalists worry changes to the proposal amount to a get-out-of-jail-free pass to one of the area’s biggest air polluters.
Alterations in the new draft unveiled at Thursday’s council meeting would lessen public oversight of CPS Energy, the city-owned utility, and reduce pressure for it to shutter its remaining coal-fired power plants, Sierra Club organizer Greg Harman cautioned.
“CPS has a lot to answer for,” Harman said. “I hope we have a mayor who’s brave enough to push them back to the table and demand some accountability and answers.”
Among the changes between the plan presented Thursday and an earlier draft is a statement that the city should work with CPS to “drive towards reaching carbon neutrality by 2050.” The original goal called for the utility to fully reduce emissions to zero by that date.
Other goals in the original plan, such as the transition to energy efficient vehicles and non-polluting power for buildings, also appear to have been scaled back in new version, climate activists warn.
What’s more, the new draft drops the cost estimates that resulted in an outcry from business groups critical of the plan.
CPS officials said they’re focused on renewable energy and will continue to phase out polluting facilities just as they did last year with the shuttering of the ‘70s-era Deely coal-fired power plant.
“CPS Energy has already embraced the transition from traditional fuel sources to renewable energy, and we understand our role in helping our customers think about energy differently,” utility spokeswoman Melissa Sorola said in a written statement. “As a matter of fact, we have been steadily controlling energy usage and reducing our carbon intensity for decades.”
But critics point out that CPS still operates two coal-fired power plants, Spruce 1 and 2, which are among the area’s top sources of air pollution. The first will remain in operation until 2030 and the second until sometime into the 2040s.
The city hosted 288 events with nearly 10,000 total attendees to help develop the plan. However, after business groups pushed back against the first draft, Mayor Ron Nirenberg delayed discussion until after May’s citywide election.
Past the Fear
So far, both council and the mayor appear ready to move forward with the second draft, which is expected to receive a final vote in the middle of October.
“We need to get past the fear and take action,” said District 7’s Ana Sandoval, who leads council’s Community Health and Equity Committee.
District 8 Councilman Manny Pelaez — who declined to support the plan’s first draft due to pushback from local employers — endorsed the new version from the dais, even though he acknowledged it’s not a “perfect document.”
“We’re not going to let perfection be the enemy of the good in this instance,” Pelaez said.
Council’s sole holdout appears to be District 10’s Clayton Perry, who’s continued to express concerns about the vagueness of the plan’s cost.
“The CAAP is being pushed as a ‘framework’ for climate action,” Perry wrote in a statement supplied to local media. “While I agree that we all have a stake in protecting the environment, I cannot support a plan with no financial parameters.”
A public comment period for the current draft closes September 6. Council is scheduled to discuss the plan again during an October 2 session and give it a final vote on October 17.
Tim Barr, a public health expert who weighed in during the creation of the plan, said the apparent rollback of goals from the original draft betrays the community members who offered input.
“My impression is that the teeth aren’t going to be added back into the plan unless there’s some kind of popular uproar,” Barr said.
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