CPS Energy CEO Paula Gold-Williams
CPS Energy CEO Paula Gold-Williams in October 2018. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

The president and CEO of CPS Energy said she would not participate in any San Antonio Chamber of Commerce votes regarding the City’s climate action plan.

Paula Gold-Williams, who chairs the San Antonio chamber, said in a statement that the Climate Action and Adaptation Plan needs “strong community discussion.” The draft plan, which was released last month, calls for reducing greenhouse gas emissions to a net zero by 2050. This would require CPS Energy to stop using coal and natural gas in the next 30 years.

Richard Perez, president of the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber – as well as other chambers of commerce in the area – share the same concerns over future potential costs of implementing the climate plan. The plan calls for reducing building energy use and going carbon-neutral by 2050, both of which would require many of the chamber’s member businesses to spend more money to meet climate action goals. Read the full SA Climate Ready plan here.

“I read [going carbon-neutral] as meaning there is no more use of fossil fuels by 2050, and we have many businesses that are members of the chamber that are in the fossil fuel business,” Perez said. “They either pull it out of the ground, transport it, or refine it into other products. So what happens to those businesses that employ thousands in San Antonio?”

The climate action plan comes more than one year after Mayor Ron Nirenberg and City Council signed a resolution to help meet the goals of the Paris accord, an international agreement that President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of in 2017. Nirenberg was one of 407 U.S. mayors who signed a pledge committing their cities to fighting climate change.

Gold-Williams said she has worked with Perez and other chamber leaders to abstain from voting on various issues “whenever necessary.” Perez said from the beginning of her tenure as the chamber’s 2019 chair, Gold-Williams understood she may have to step aside if issues arose that could be potential conflicts of interest.

“Our chairmen of the board are from all kinds of business backgrounds – banking, energy in Paula’s case, health care, sciences, wealth management,” Perez said in a statement. “Whenever we talk to a potential chair of the board, like with Paula, we brought up the fact that sometimes issues come up that the chair may not be appropriate for them to head the organization at the time, they can step aside and allow a former chair or incoming chair to run the meeting.”

Earlier this week, City Council decided to vote on the climate plan after the May 4 election. Nirenberg spokesman Bruce Davidson told the Rivard Report the new “target date” is May 16, before newly elected City Council members would start their term.

Gold-Williams said in her statement that she assured Nirenberg she would stay out of any decisions regarding the chamber’s response to the city’s climate action plan.

“My pledge as President & CEO of CPS Energy is to continue to be a resource on public energy matters for all our customers throughout our service territory,” she said. “In fact, our organization is in absolute listening and assistance mode.”

Nirenberg commended Gold-Williams for her decision to recuse herself from a chamber vote.

“She has taken a prudent step by opting not to be involved in any chamber action regarding the CAAP,” Nirenberg said in a statement. “It is critically important that CPS present the data and the details to inform the decisions that we will confront to achieve the goals of lowering emissions.”

Though Gold-Williams will not participate in the board of directors’ vote in April on whether to support the Climate Action and Adaptation Plan, Perez said she would still be offering her energy industry expertise and background to board members.

“I think it would be foolish for us to not accept her input,” Perez said. “She runs our energy company. She’s got a lot of expertise. She’s going to be a resource for us as we go through this process, her and her team.”

Before the chamber can decide whether to support the plan or not, Perez said members need more details on expected cost to businesses. But he also realizes that the future will likely bring technological advancement that can’t be factored in right now.

“We’re flexible,” he said. “With time, there will be technical innovations that can bring down costs for modifying a building, or modifying a vehicle, or putting solar on your house – all elements of the plan. We get that, and we know it will happen. Technical innovations will bring down costs but there’s not a lot of that in the plan itself.”

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Jackie Wang

Jackie Wang covered local government for the San Antonio Report.