From left, CPS Energy trustees Willis Mackey, Janie Gonzalez, Ed Kelley, and John Steen, and Chief Legal Officer Carolyn Shellman listen to the public at a hearing on a proposed climate plan.
From left, CPS Energy trustees Willis Mackey, Janie Gonzalez, Ed Kelley, and John Steen, and Chief Legal Officer Carolyn Shellman listen to the public at a hearing on a proposed climate plan in February. Credit: Brendan Gibbons / San Antonio Report

Multiple speakers at a hearing on a proposed plan to deal with global warming in San Antonio called for a better accounting of the plan’s financial implications to more fully understand its costs compared to business as usual.

Most of the individual speakers who signed up to address CPS Energy’s board of trustees at a hearing Monday at the Villita Assembly Building supported the overall plan’s goal of making San Antonio carbon-neutral. Several said the proposed target date of 2050 is too late and that the City and CPS Energy need to act quickly to stop rising temperatures.

However, leaders of local business organizations that represent thousands of members focused on the plan’s lack of financial details. Many of the shifts proposed in the plan could have significant economic implications, including a goal for CPS Energy to move completely away from coal and natural gas and for a transition to all electric and other carbon-free vehicles on San Antonio roads.

“If we are not careful, we may well be driving away jobs,” said Richard Perez, president and CEO of the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce. “Let’s remember that we have some very important companies here in San Antonio that are involved in the production, refinement, sale, and transportation of crude, refined, and component parts of oil and natural gas.”

At the outset of the meeting, which drew more than 100 people, City leaders strove to dispel the notion that acting on climate change means destroying the local economy and cracking down on individual liberties.

“I have seen environmental innovation spur jobs, spur new economies,” said Councilwoman Ana Sandoval (D7), a supporter of the plan who has experience working in air-quality issues. “That is my hope for San Antonio.”

City Chief Sustainability Officer Doug Melnick told the crowd that the plan emphasizes finding ways that would work in San Antonio to make buildings more energy-efficient, moving CPS Energy further towards renewable energy, and providing better transportation options besides cars and trucks occupied by a only single person.

“The intent is not to take away anybody’s cars,” Melnick said. “What we are looking at is a market transition. What we are seeing is more and more electric vehicles on the road. … So the role of the city is more how do we provide more charging infrastructure, how do we incentivize or help support that transition.”

Paula Gold-Williams, president and CEO of the municipally owned CPS Energy, urged the utility’s customers to speak their minds about the plan and CPS Energy’s future. She acknowledged the gulf between the utility’s Flexible Path – a plan unveiled last year that calls for the continued use of coal and natural gas through 2042 – and the changes proposed in the climate plan.

“We look at the ways to provide power as reliably as we can,” Gold-Williams said. “Today we know what we know, and every year we see people across the globe make decisions and investments and research, and we see the industry changing. We’re going to need these decades to try to solve a lot of things because technology is not all in to make this an easy play.”

Most of the more than 35 who spoke at the hearing were in favor of action on climate. Speakers included members of environmental organizations, such as the Sierra Club, Environmental Defense Fund, Public Citizen, and the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center, many of whom have said the plan doesn’t go far or fast enough to address the climate crisis.

Dee Dee Belmares, a field organizer and self-described “ecomadre” with Moms Clean Air Force, also asked for a full accounting of the costs and benefits associated with the plan.

“What we need now from CPS Energy … is for CPS Energy to determine the cost implications for the city to move from dirty, polluting, health-damaging fossil fuel use to clean renewable energy,” she said.

Belmares also suggested that CPS Energy start allowing public comments at its monthly board meetings, make meetings of its Citizens Advisory Committee public, and livestream all its meetings. All are common practices among other local government entities, including the San Antonio Water System.

CPS Energy officials have said that they intend to provide information about the costs of different “energy scenarios” sometime this spring.

City officials will also hold a public meeting about the climate plan on Tuesday from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Central Library at 600 Soledad St.

Brendan Gibbons is a former senior reporter at the San Antonio Report. He is an environmental journalist for Oil & Gas Watch.