Climate Action SA activists hold a press conference demanding environment protections at City Hall.
Climate Action SA activists hold a press conference demanding environmental protections at City Hall. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Shut down the coal-fired power plants by 2025, with all other fossil fuels gone by 2030.

Climate Action SA, a coalition of left-wing environmental and social justice groups, on Tuesday announced these two goals for CPS Energy, San Antonio’s municipally owned electric and gas utility, to do its part to fight the crisis of rapid global warming.

“Half of the greenhouse gas emissions that San Antonio is responsible for come from CPS Energy infrastructure – our coal plants, our gas plants, our pipes, and the like,” said Greg Harman, a Sierra Club activist and one of the group’s organizers, at a press event outside City Hall.

Greg Harman
Greg Harman Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

In an email, Melissa Sorola, director of corporate communications for CPS Energy, said the utility’s goal is to be the “cleanest vertically integrated, municipally owned utility in the nation.”

“We must do that in a responsible manner that protects customers against price spikes and reliability compromises,” she continued.

Under its so-called Flexible Path plan, the utility will close its Deely coal-fired units by the end of this year but plans to continue operating its newer Spruce coal-fired units over the coming decades.

The plan calls for CPS Energy to generate half of its electricity using wind and solar by 2040, though it would also continue burning natural gas.

Last year, CPS Energy’s generating mix was roughly 45 percent natural gas, 22 percent wind and solar, 18 percent coal, and 14 percent nuclear.

The Flexible Path plan also includes expanding emerging technologies like battery storage and electric vehicles, Sorola said, along with programs to improve energy efficiency and reduce demand.

Sorola said that CPS Energy officials will continue to meet quarterly with local environmental groups and called the plan “an ongoing discussion.”

The coalition announced its goals roughly six months ahead of the completion of the first phase of the City of San Antonio’s climate plan, a move likely intended to push those in charge toward more aggressive measures.

The announcement is the first major one from the so-called “climate justice” group, which consists of members from around three dozen other groups. In mid-2017, members began regularly talking about the Trump Administration’s plans to pull the U.S. from the Paris Accord.

In private and at public events with microphones and banners, coalition members urged then-newly elected Mayor Ron Nirenberg and City Council members to sign a resolution committing San Antonio to the Paris Accord goals. The new Council did so at its first meeting in June 2017.

A printed poster that reads the announcement from San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg that the city of San Antonio will stand by the Paris Agreement.
Climate Action SA members display a marked-up poster of Mayor Ron Nirenberg’s June 2017 announcement that the City will stand by the Paris Agreement. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

In December, the City, CPS Energy, and the University of Texas at San Antonio officially kicked off efforts to build what they call a Climate Action and Adaptation Plan to reduce San Antonio’s greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to a hotter climate.

Officials in charge of the process assembled six committees involving more than 80 volunteers who are now meeting monthly to discuss specific measures.

At the same time, members of the climate activist coalition, some of whom are also members of the Climate Action and Adaptation Plan groups, have been meeting on their own around once a week. There, they talk about their own goals and how to work directly with other community groups.

Privately, many coalition members fear that the City’s Climate Action and Adaptation Plan will not be aggressive enough or adequately address the needs of the city’s poor, working class, and minority communities.

“They want to get involved,” said Sofia Sepulveda, chair of Our Revolution – San Antonio, a group originally formed to support the presidential candidacy of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Sepulveda, who lives in San Antonio’s predominantly Latino and working-class Southside, said people in such communities are interested in issues related to climate, such as air quality, cancer rates, and access to green spaces and healthy food.

“When you talk about their health, they start listening,” she said. “And when we tell them we need you to get involved…they want to get involved. You can see that they are hopeful that people who are not involved in government are coming there to help them.”

Top CPS Energy leaders will hear more of the public’s views on its power generation at a meeting next week.

The utility’s President and CEO Paula Gold-Williams and its board of trustees will hold a public hearing on the future of its fossil fuel and renewable mix from 5-8:30 p.m. on Wednesday, June 13 at the Villita Assembly Building at 401 Villita St. Those who wish to speak must sign up between 5 and 6 p.m.

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