San Antonio’s municipally owned energy utility has begun actively searching for contractors to help it take the next step toward replacing its oldest natural gas and coal units with clean energy technologies. 

CPS Energy formally launched a request for proposals (RFP) Tuesday seeking to partner with contractors to help it utilize new energy generation and storage technologies, as well as energy-efficiency measures under its FlexPower Bundle initiative. Requests for proposals are public solicitations for bids from contractors who want to take on a project.  

The RFP states CPS Energy is seeking to add up to 900 megawatts of solar-generating capacity, 50 megawatts of battery storage, and 500 megawatts of reliable capacity from an open-ended source. One megawatt is enough electricity to power 200 Texas homes on a summer day.

During a press conference Wednesday, CPS Energy Chief Operating Officer Cris Eugster said the FlexPower Bundle will help San Antonio take a different approach to resource planning. 

“We are very excited about this project,” Eugster said. “[With] traditional approaches, you think about a power plant. We’re thinking about a power bundle.”

The bundle will allow CPS Energy to triple its solar portfolio, said CPS Energy President and CEO Paula Gold-Williams. Solar is currently 7.4 percent of CPS Energy’s generating capacity.

The RFP comes as the utility faces pressure from environmental groups leading a petition drive to eliminate CPS Energy’s board and force it to shift away from fossil fuels sooner than its planned timetable, among other reforms. If the groups gather enough signatures, voters could decide in May 2021 to replace the utility’s board with direct City Council oversight.

The utility said in September it received 197 responses to requests for information on the FlexPower Bundle project.

CPS Energy also requested information regarding the next generation of its energy-efficiency efforts and programs to reduce its customers’ demand for electricity, which it calls FlexSTEP. The utility’s original STEP – the Save for Tomorrow Energy Plan – reduced demand enough to allow it to avoid building another new fossil fuel plant in the 2010s.

The FlexPower Bundle is a part of CPS Energy’s Flexible Path, and will help replace the capacity CPS Energy will lose over the coming decade. CPS Energy leaders project the utility’s oldest natural gas steam plants – the 1970s-era O.W. Sommers and V.H. Braunig facilities – will end their useful lives in the 2020s.

The Flexible Path, created in 2017, is CPS Energy’s strategy to transform the utility to lower and non-emitting energy resources. As a part of the City of San Antonio’s Climate Action and Adaptation Plan, CPS has said it is working toward full carbon neutrality by 2050.

“We get a lot of people who ask questions like, ‘Why can’t it be all solar?’” Gold-Williams said of the utility’s power generation sources. “It can’t be all solar because solar in a technology by itself can’t go 24/7. It’s not ideology, and it’s not anything that’s against it. We learned a long time ago that we have to be diverse in the different ways to create power and deliver it.”

CPS Energy is seeking both large and small contractors for solar and energy storage technologies through the RFP, according to the utility. Eugster said it is likely CPS will choose multiple contractors and partners for the project.

CPS Energy said it plans to release another request for proposals for FlexSTEP in January 2021.

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. A native San Antonian, she graduated from Texas A&M University in 2016 with a degree in telecommunication media...