A $500,000 grant from CPS Energy will allow researchers at University of Texas in San Antonio to dive into San Antonio’s climate inventory and, for the first time, develop the framework for a local climate action plan to improve air quality and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The project was announced Tuesday, moments before Mayor Ron Nirenberg signed a resolution in support of the Paris Climate Agreement.

“This Council, in resoundingly approving the resolution, made a clear statement that [climate action] is a priority. Now we are acting on it today,” Nirenberg said. The City’s comprehensive SA Tomorrow plan calls for a climate action initiative, but has yet to receive funding.

“We now have all wheels turning in the same direction for climate preparedness,” Nirenberg said.

The $500,000 grant is part of CPS Energy’s commitment to fund $50 million worth of research and development projects with UTSA between 2010 and 2020. So far, the publicly-owned utility has commissioned less than $10 million of work from the university.

“We have lots of capacity over the next multiple years to do new projects,” CPS Energy President and CEO Paula Gold-Williams told the Rivard Report. “This [first project] is just baseline research, and from there we’ll work together to think about what else can we do to really move the community forward.”

San Antonio has joined hundreds of cities that pledged support of the Paris Agreement – aimed at preventing global climate change – despite President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the accord. Councilman Clayton Perry (D10) cast the sole vote against the resolution last week.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg formally signs the resolution in support of the Paris Agreement as San Antonio leaders stand behind him.
Mayor Ron Nirenberg signs the resolution in support of the Paris Agreement as San Antonio leaders stand behind him. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

The stars seem to be aligning in favor of the environment in San Antonio with the City’s new, progressive mayor and Council. Approving the Paris resolution was one of Nirenberg’s first actions since taking office last week. His first motion as an ex officio CPS Energy board member was to approve the $500,000 grant to UTSA during the board meeting on Monday.

Momentum for this kind of climate research has been building for many years on council and in the community, Gold-Williams said. “I would say that the mayor is stepping up the focus … he’s only been in office for a week and this is amazing momentum we have.”

The City’s Office of Sustainability and other departments have worked on some components of the Resilient SA Action Plan – which purposefully leaves out the term “climate” to avoid negative political sentiments associated with the word – and will be working closely with UTSA. A formal agreement between the two is still required for the work to begin, Nirenberg said.

“Unfortunately environmental issues become political issues very quickly,” Nirenberg told the more than 50 people, many of them environmental advocates, gathered for the announcement. “But this council made a statement … when it comes to science, when it comes to environmental issues and economic issues, we will do what’s right even if the politics [aren’t] easy.”

Councilwoman Ana Sandoval (D7) speaks to the importance of protecting the environment. Councilwoman Ana Sandoval (D7) speaks to the importance of protecting the environment.
Councilwoman Ana Sandoval (D7) speaks to the importance of protecting the environment. Credit: Mayor Ron Nirenberg walks with newly appointed Director of Communications Bruce Davidson following the signing of the Paris Agreement Tuesday morning.

Preparing for and mitigating climate change is not only good for the environment, it’s good for the economy, said Councilwoman Ana Sandoval (D7), who holds master’s degrees in civil and environmental engineering. These kinds of initiatives and projects employ people across industries, from solar installers to scientists.

“We’re opening our doors to that new economy,” Sandoval said. “People like me can work here now.”

CPS Energy has been working for years on its New Energy Economy initiative aimed at bolstering clean energy, innovation, and energy efficiency. The utility aims for renewables to make up 20% of its total generation by 2020. The $849 million Save for Tomorrow Energy Plan – initiated in 2009 to save 771 megawatts of electricity by 2020 – incentivizes energy-efficient household appliances and solar panel installations for both residential and commercial customers.

As for its $50 million agreement with UTSA, CPS Energy would have to spend more than $40 million over the next 3.5 years to hit the 10-year timeline. Gold-Williams said that was more of a starting point than a deadline.

“We’re going to give ourselves time … [we will] wait for the inertia and the ability for people to focus,” she said. “Even if it takes longer than 2020, we go for the long game.”

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Iris Dimmick

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and workforce development. Contact her at iris@sareport.org