Stretches of pavement across the city may not get as scorching hot in the extreme Texas summer, thanks to a pilot project coming out of a newly created city fund.

One million dollars from the city’s new Resiliency, Energy Efficiency and Sustainability (REES) fund have been earmarked to go toward the installation of so-called cool pavement sections in all 10 City Council districts, city staff told council members last week. These pavement sections will receive a reflective coating to help them absorb less radiant heat from the sun in the summer and be less hot, helping keep the surrounding air cooler.

This pilot project is part of the city’s effort to roll out several new green initiatives that will move it closer to reaching the goals outlined in its Climate Action and Adaptation Plan. Those same initiatives also could help San Antonio secure more federal dollars for climate mitigation.

These cool pavement segments will be installed in neighborhoods selected through an equity study the city is conducting with UTSA scientists, and aim to reduce urban heat island effects around San Antonio. Urban heat islands occur when cities replace the natural land with pavement, buildings and other surfaces that absorb and retain heat — making these areas much hotter than they would naturally be. This effect increases energy costs, air pollution levels and heat-related illness in these areas.

For the pilot, the city will test five different coatings and will work with UTSA scientists to see which most efficiently reduces the air temperature around them. The coatings also will be assessed for durability, whether they create glare and to see how resistant they are to skidding, explained Ben Gorzell, the city’s chief financial officer. Each stretch would be about half a mile long. The city hopes to be able to have these sections installed by the end of June, he said.

Ideally, the city would use the most effective coating on roads and sidewalks across town, helping attack heat islands, the city’s innovation officer, Brian Dillard, told the San Antonio Report on Tuesday.

Dillard said scaling up the project beyond the pilot will depend on its success, but city staff is hopeful it could be accomplished.

This project will be one of the first coming out of the REES fund, which was created with the adoption of the city’s 2023 budget at the request of Councilwoman Ana Sandoval (D7). This new fund comes from an allocated portion of the money the city receives every year from CPS Energy, and will go towards green initiatives. As a municipally owned utility, CPS Energy contributes roughly 14% of its gross revenues to the city every year, making up about a third of the city’s General Fund.

The city estimates the fund will see a total of $9.5 million next year and staff members briefed City Council last week on how it would like to appropriate the first $2.3 million. The cool pavement pilot project would be just one of three recommended projects the city would launch.

City staff recommended another $1.2 million be allocated to the creation of small grants for community organizations. City staff said the first of these dollars should go toward San Antonio schools to create an “eco-scholar” grant program. The exact details of what these grants would look like were unclear.

“For the initial round of grants, we want to target public and private schools at all grade levels,” Gorzell said. “Applicants will be required to describe a project that they’re going to undertake in the areas of climate initiative, conservation and sustainability.”

Selected applicants would receive either $10,000, $5,000 or $3,000 depending on how extensive their project is, Gorzell said. They would receive 50% of the grant for seed funding for their project, and the other 50% upon project completion, he added. Roughly $200,000 would go toward marketing and advertising the grants between January and March, and the other $1 million would be for the grants themselves, Gorzell said. Projects would have a two-year project cap.

The city also wants to allocate $135,990 from the fund toward securing other funding from the federal goverment, Gorzell said. This money would allow the city to add another position to its government affairs department to assist with finding and pursuing federal funding that can match city dollars, he said.

There are opportunities out there, “not only with the Inflation Reduction Act, but we think there probably are other opportunities that are out there that we can also pursue,” Gorzell said.

An undecided amount would be used for creating “business incentives.” What that means or what that would look like is still being determined, Gorzell said, but the city staff “will come back to this.”

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Lindsey Carnett

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