Jesse Chadwick presents her group's ideas at SA Climate Ready Town Hall at UTSA Downtown.
Jesse Chadwick, air quality analyst at Alamo Area Council of Governments, shares group ideas during an SA Climate Ready town tall last year at UTSA Downtown Campus. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

In June 2017, officials with the City of San Antonio, CPS Energy, and the University of Texas at San Antonio held a press conference announcing their plans to create a new climate action plan for the city.

One year later, UTSA’s role in the plan has changed considerably compared to what was originally proposed, according to a statement of work the Rivard Report obtained this week. The document is an agreement among CPS Energy, the San Antonio River Authority, and Navigant Consulting.

According to the document, nearly all of the work originally assigned to UTSA has been passed to Navigant. These responsibilities include drafting an inventory of greenhouse gas emissions, identifying strategies to cut emissions, determining a target for reducing emissions, and drafting the final action and adaptation plans.

The monetary agreement also has changed. CPS Energy had previously announced it would commit $500,000 to fund UTSA’s climate efforts, part of a larger 10-year, $50 million research partnership between the two entities. Now, CPS Energy will spend up to $650,000 on the climate plan, said Jonathan Tijerina, the utility’s senior director for corporate communications.

For its work on the plan, Navigant will receive $355,000 from CPS Energy. UTSA has already received $250,000 and will receive an additional $45,000 by the end of the year, Tijerina said.

Click here to read the statement of work.

Under the agreement, Navigant will also work with River Authority staff to develop more accurate flood risk maps. Severe flooding is one of the natural disasters worsened by climate change that puts San Antonio most at risk.

Jones Maltsberger Road is flooded at East Basse Road after heavy weekend rains on Oct. 24, 2015. Photo by Iris Dimmick.
Jones Maltsberger Road is flooded at East Basse Road in October 2015. Credit: Iris Dimmick / San Antonio Report

Navigant is a publicly traded consulting firm headquartered in Chicago with offices across the United States and in Canada, Asia, Europe, Australia, and the Middle East, according to federal filings. The company has worked for CPS Energy in the past on issues relating to the power grid, rates, and “strategy issues,” said Dan Bradley, a managing director in Navigant’s energy division, who is based in Austin.

UTSA will have a role in the project as Navigant will have the services of UTSA students available 20 hours a week “to conduct a baseline emissions inventory and [greenhouse gas] forecast and other tasks,” along with one City staff member and one CPS Energy staff member up to 10 hours per week.

The new arrangement is not mentioned on the City’s climate plan website or on its social media feeds, though Anita Ledbetter, who chairs the citizen steering committee working on the plan, said the steering committee and working groups have known since meetings began that Navigant would draft the plan.

The Rivard Report interviewed Tijerina, Ledbetter, the City’s Chief Sustainability Officer Doug Melnick, Mayor Ron Nirenberg, and UTSA architecture Dean John Murphy about the shift in UTSA’s role. All said the collaboration among the three entities remains strong.

“The UTSA, City of San Antonio, and CPS Energy partnership is rock solid in regards to the [climate plan] and the ongoing educational alliance partnership,” Tijerina said.

Pressed on the issue of why UTSA is no longer writing the plan, Nirenberg said, “My understanding is … there weren’t enough man hours within UTSA to get the scope completed the way [the Climate Action and Adaption Plan] was intended.”

Bradley, who is overseeing the company’s work on the plan, had a similar response.

“In going through these types of activities, it’s really hard,” he said. “There’s a lot of data to be crunched. It really relates to the availability of resources to get this magnitude of engagement done. It had a lot to do with resource constraints.”

Asked about these statements, Murphy, who replaced architecture professor Hazem Rashed-Ali as the project’s principal investigator, said, “We delivered a substantial amount of work in the first phase.”

This included research on best practices in climate planning, an inventory of greenhouse gases, and a climate projection study, he said. UTSA faculty had also started a community engagement process and were instrumental in the December kickoff event.

“All of those were deliverables we had given to this project,” said Murphy, who added that besides himself, two faculty members and one graduate student are still involved with the plan.

Melnick said some of the issues that emerged early on concerned academic independence and the difference between a climate plan and a traditional research project.

“The UTSA contacts that I had were very much concerned about their academic independence and integrity,” Melnick said. “We completely respect that…From my perspective and my experience, the challenge of this is it’s not a research project…This is a little different in that it’s a community-wide plan.”

San Antonio's Chief Sustainability Officer Doug Melnick.
San Antonio’s Chief Sustainability Officer Doug Melnick. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Murphy said the agreement to bring in Navigant was mutual among the City, CPS Energy, and UTSA faculty, given the project’s “brisk time frame.”

The portion of the plan related to cutting greenhouse gas emissions is set to be complete in December, with the section addressing adapting to a hotter world done by March 2019.

“We all agreed it would be good to bring in someone to keep us all on track,” Murphy said.

So far, Navigant has not met two deadlines that are included in the statement of work, Tijerina confirmed. These are a June 1 deadline for the inventory and a June 15 deadline for a background report that includes the inventory, climate projections, and an economic cost-benefit analysis.

Melnick said the emissions inventory is almost finished and will be ready for release soon.

Asked whether Navigant can do the job as well as UTSA, Murphy said, “I think they’re a proven international entity with international expertise and experience in this field.”

Navigant has had prior experience consulting with other cities on climate action plans, particularly in Europe, where several cites recently completed them, Bradley and Melnick said.

“I hadn’t worked with Navigant before,” said Melnick, who worked on a climate plan for Albany, New York, prior to moving to San Antonio. “They’re really tied into some national and international organizations that really have been leading the charge on climate planning, such as C40…Personally, I’ve been really pleased.”

Asked whether the company’s contractual arrangement with CPS Energy, which has emerged as a leader in renewables but still manages coal and gas power plants, might affect the plan’s results, Bradley said, “Our company and our work in many cases is in a position to perform work that’s independent.

“You look at real data on which you conduct your analysis,” he said. “The aim of our organization is to make the conclusions that come from our analyses as unbiased as we can.”

Bradley said the company has between two and six employees dedicated to climate plan, depending on what’s needed at the time.

Ledbetter, director of the nonprofit Build San Antonio Green, spoke highly of the consultant’s work and expressed optimism about the planning process so far.

“It’s a very exciting but challenging plan,” she said. “I think that UTSA is a very important local partner, but I recognize we’re lucky to have a national and international partner with Navigant’s experience.”

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Brendan Gibbons

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