The Calaveras Power Plant.
CPS Energy's Calaveras Power Station includes its Sommers natural gas units. The utility's trustees will soon decide how much natural gas to rely on in the near future. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

This story has been updated.

After months of deliberation, an advisory committee to CPS Energy has narrowed down which mix of energy sources it wants to see powering San Antonio in the near future.

CPS Energy’s Rate Advisory Committee, made up of residents appointed by the utility’s board and by members of the city council, will vote on Dec. 15 on which generation portfolio it will recommend to the utility’s board of trustees, which is expected to make a final decision early next year.

The decision will set the course for how reliable, affordable and eco-friendly the utility’s energy sources will be over the next decade.

Residents will have the chance to hear more about the decision Thursday night from 7 – 8 p.m. via a virtual town hall; Friday is the last day to respond to a CPS Energy survey. The utility has also dedicated a web page that lays out the current generation mix, including all the aging fossil fuel plants that will need replacing and descriptions of the nine proposed portfolio mixes trustees will choose from.

With the help of third-party consultants, CPS Energy developed nine options for the advisory board, the public and ultimately trustees to choose from. Each is a slightly different mix of fossil fuels, renewables and plant retirements, and is rated on reliability and climate resiliency, sustainability, affordability, system flexibility and workforce impact through 2030.

The advisory committee has narrowed its choices down to two, portfolios #2 and #9.

Both will phase out the utility’s coal use by the end of the decade and have a reserve margin of at least 13.75%. Portfolio #2, or P2, favors the continued use of natural gas while Portfolio #9, or P9, would phase fossil fuel supply options out of CPS Energy’s portfolio more quickly.

CPS Energy’s Rate Advisory Committee will vote on whether to recommend P2 or P9 to the board of trustees on Dec. 15. Credit: Courtesy / CPS Energy

P2 would shut Spruce 1 down by 2028, and convert Spruce 2 to natural gas by 2027 which would run indefinitely. P9 would shut Spruce 1 down, convert Spruce 2 to natural gas by 2028, and then shut it down by 2035.

Models to see which mix would function best under extreme scenarios (such as inclement weather and unrestricted market growth), found P2 performs better across different scenarios, while P9 is the most cost-effective portfolio among the options that focus on renewables.

The CPS Energy Board of Trustees will take the rate advisory committee’s recommendation into account, along with input from the public. Credit: Courtesy / CPS Energy

P2 would add 1,380 megawatts from new gas plants, 500 megawatts from wind, and 1,180 megawatts from solar to CPS Energy’s mix by 2030, whereas P9 would add 500 megawatts from new gas plants, 2,300 megawatts from wind and 1,180 megawatts from solar by 2030. One megawatt can power roughly 200 homes on a hot day.

CPS Energy staff recommends P2. Benny Ethridge, the utility’s executive vice president of energy supply, told the San Antonio Report that using natural gas for longer increases reliability until newer technologies come down in cost enough that they can be adopted and still keep rates affordable.

“The reason we have a preference for P2 is it allows us to add dispatchable generation alongside renewable generation so that we can actually support the intermittent nature of the renewables,” Ethridge said. “I don’t think we’re in a position with the technology that’s available to us today to go all renewables.”

Discussions surrounding which of the two options should be forwarded to trustees grew heated Tuesday, with environmental advocates on the committee making their case for P9, while supporters of P2 emphasized affordability and stability.

“I think we really need to take [the financial aspects] to heart when we’re making these decisions,” said Dana McGinnis, a committee member. “We need to be really careful about not taking any more risk than we have to take to have a reliable system.”

Others focused more on the social implications of the decision.

Committee member Anacua Orellana Garcia said she is not a fan of any of the nine mixes, which don’t take health costs into consideration when calculating affordability. The continued use of fossil fuels in any capacity means the continuation of harmful emissions, which will cost residents in healthcare costs, she said.

DeeDee Belmares, a climate justice organizer with Public Citizen’s Texas office and committee member, said while she would support P9, she would also support portfolios 5 through 8, which she worked with CPS Energy to draft.

“CPS Energy is saying, ‘Okay, these are the two most viable options’ and that’s all the [committee] members are focusing on — but all the other portfolios that focus on renewables have their merits as well,” Belmares told the San Antonio Report Wednesday. “I am concerned CPS is leading the [committee] to only look at two options where there are seven more — and they’re throwing their hat behind one that is still using gas in 2035.”

Ethridge said he hopes committee members think of the choice before them as a bridge to future generation decisions.

While adopting P2 would help the city to meet its 2030 Climate Action and Adaptation Plan goals, it would not help it meet its 2040 goals, the analysis shows. However, the utility’s portfolio will likely need to be updated again before 2040, and at that time, decisions can be made to help meet the 2040 climate plan goals, Ethridge said.

Reed Williams, chair of the advisory committee and a former oil executive, made a similar point during Tuesday’s meeting. This generation decision only goes through 2030 he said, and by then, some technologies will have matured to become more affordable and reliable, making them easier to adopt.

Environmentalists on the committee are exasperated by such talk. Climate change is wreaking havoc on the planet, the weather and people’s health now, they say, and CPS Energy must act accordingly.

“In large part, people are concerned about reliability and affordability, and those are my concerns also,” Belmares said. “But I’m also concerned about the habitability of our planet, and the science tells us that we have to dramatically reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and we have to reduce emissions — and [continued] use of natural gas is not the answer.”

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Lindsey Carnett

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