When CPS Energy started looking for a different building to call home eight years ago, the utility’s leaders knew they wanted to set an example for other commercial building owners in downtown San Antonio.

CPS Energy officials wanted their new office space not only to be located along the San Antonio River but also to show how an older building could be repurposed to be energy efficient, CPS Energy President and CEO Rudy Garza said. The building the utility repurposed was once the headquarters of AT&T, built in the late 1970s, and is now 60% more efficient than the utility’s former headquarters on Navarro Street.

“We had this vision of reimagining what the headquarters of CPS Energy in downtown San Antonio should look like,” said Garza earlier this month as he stood in the building’s cafeteria with a wall covered in live foliage behind him. “We stripped this old AT&T building down to studs and we rebuilt it in a way that reflects the type of example and leadership that we’re trying to provide in this community.”

Earlier this month, the building that opened in 2020 was recognized as the city’s first certified Build San Antonio Green commercial “retrofit” building. Retrofitting is the refurbishment of an existing building with the aim of reducing the carbon emissions and environmental impact of the building.

Rudy D. Garza, CEO of CPS Energy, speaks about the CPS headquarters Build San Antonio Green recognition during a press conference on Tuesday.
Rudy Garza, CEO of CPS Energy, speaks about the utility’s headquarters’ Build San Antonio Green recognition during a May 9 press conference. Credit: Brenda Bazán / San Antonio Report

CPS Energy first set its sights on attaining a more energy-efficient building for its headquarters in 2015 under then-CEO Doyle Beneby. The move and redesign cost the utility $212 million, with construction launching in 2017.

“This building is an example of how repurposing and revitalizing our existing buildings is an important part of achieving our community’s emission reduction goals and climate solutions,” said Doug Melnick, the city’s chief sustainability officer. “If we were to talk to our Office of Historic Preservation, [they’d say] the most efficient building is the one that’s already there.”

The global building retrofitting market is expected to experience steady growth through 2027, according to a report by TechSci Research.

CPS Energy’s new headquarters is the first commercial retrofit building to be certified by Build San Antonio Green, a nonprofit that works with builders and developers to certify green homes in San Antonio. The organization has retrofitted over 40 million square feet of space in San Antonio, or roughly 18,000 projects — 15 of which are mixed-use commercial spaces.

The nonprofit has certified over 15,800 projects to date and estimates it has helped reduce the city’s peak demand by 26 megawatts. One megawatt is enough to power about 200 homes on a hot Texas summer day.

CPS Energy’s new headquarters was “the first adaptive reuse commercial building for us, and so it really helped us to pilot our commercial program,” said Anita Ledbetter, executive director of Build San Antonio Green.

Anita Ledbetter, executive director of Build San Antonio Green, speaks during a press conference at CPS headquarters on Tuesday.
Anita Ledbetter, executive director of Build San Antonio Green, speaks during a press conference at CPS Energy headquarters. Credit: Brenda Bazán / San Antonio Report

Another entity that has since started retrofitting aging building stock with Build San Antonio Green is Bexar County, she said.

Retrofitting will be important to San Antonio’s environmental future for a few reasons, she said. First, it will improve the quality of life for residents who retrofit their homes by helping them save money on utility bills while keeping cool in the summer, she said. Second, it helps the city save its building stock. San Antonio is a 300-year-old city with a lot of old buildings, Ledbetter said.

“We need to help prepare our community for more severe weather,” she said. “Retrofitting helps our community because we can reuse and adapt these spaces instead of walking away from them.”

In renovating the now-LEED Gold-certified building, CPS Energy used recycled wood for its tables and fixtures, installed energy-saving lights, windows and appliances, and included electric vehicle charging stations.

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification is the most widely used green building rating system in the world. The green-building certification program offers four passing levels of certification based on a point system: certified, silver, gold and platinum. When CPS Energy announced its redesign plans in 2016, the utility set the goal of getting a gold certification.

Garza said he and other CPS Energy leaders are hopeful other commercial building owners in San Antonio will follow the utility’s example in retrofitting older office spaces. He noted the utility included within its revamped STEP program an explainer for commercial building owners on how they can make their building greener with CPS Energy’s help “because we want to be partners with all the buildings out there who have opportunities to do better.”

“We have a lot of work to do in San Antonio, to bring our commercial building stock up to energy efficiency code,” he said.

Doing so would help the city make some progress toward its SA Climate Ready Climate Action and Adaptation Plan goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2050; one way to reduce the city’s greenhouse gas emissions is to cut building emissions by employing such methods as retrofitting.

“One of the goals of the climate plan is to reduce building-related emissions as quickly as possible,” Melnick said. “The more local examples we have of high-performing buildings, the more it helps make the business case.”

CPS Energy is a financial supporter of the San Antonio Report. For a full list of business members, click here.

Lindsey Carnett covers the environment, science and utilities for the San Antonio Report.