Climate Plan Calls for San Antonio to Phase Out Fossil Fuels by 2050

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Traffic lines up on Interstate 35 during rush hour.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

Cars lines Interstate 35 during rush hour.

To fulfill its city council’s promise to act on climate change, San Antonio must reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050, according to a draft version of a climate plan released Friday.

That means within 30 years, CPS Energy would have to completely quit coal and natural gas, according to the document, the result of a more than yearlong planning effort led by the City, CPS Energy, Navigant Consulting, and the University of Texas at San Antonio.

The plan also states that San Antonio must have only electric or other carbon-free vehicles on its roads by 2050.

These are two main takeaways from a plan to make good on the pledge by Mayor Ron Nirenberg and newly elected members of the City Council. Soon after taking office in June 2017, they passed a resolution saying San Antonio would do its part to help meet the goals of the Paris Accord, an international agreement meant to avoid the worst effects of climate change.

“My big hope with this plan is that it’s a starting point for continued conversation with the community,” said City Chief Sustainability Officer Doug Melnick, who was instrumental in guiding the planning process. “The city needs to become overall aware of why we’re doing this, and that we need to do this, and that it’s a benefit to do it.”

San Antonio’s leadership signed onto the Paris pledge only weeks after President Donald Trump announced the U.S. would abandon all its efforts to comply with the deal. Nirenberg wasn’t alone in doing so – 407 U.S. mayors have signed a pledge saying their cities would do their part.

San Antonio’s relatively tiny influence on the global climate has led some to question whether aggressive local action is worth the risk. Interim City Councilman Art Hall (D2) summed up that view in a Council committee meeting Thursday.

In “the world picture, San Antonio’s a little dot,” Hall said. “If we’re [incurring] all these costs and taking on our responsibilities and others are not, that’s a huge issue. And if other countries are not, that’s also a huge issue.”

However, if the entire world does nothing, life will get much hotter and harder in San Antonio over the coming decades, according to climate projections. By 2100, the city could see another 48 to 94 days per year when temperatures top 100 degrees, as well as annual rainfall totals 3 to 4 inches less than historical averages, according to the plan.

The plan also includes 45 specific strategies to help the city adapt to life in a warmer world. Many are already underway, including creating more green space, preparing for wildfire, and incorporating more realistic flooding standards into the City’s drainage codes.

Melnick highlighted the plan’s emphasis on equity, an attempt to ensure those most vulnerable to the ravages of extreme weather don’t bear most of the burden of solving the problem.

Some of the strategies in the plan are sure to encounter resistance, especially ideas to incorporate more energy efficiency into the City’s building codes. It calls for a 15-percent reduction in building energy use by 2030 and a 40-percent cutback by 2040.

Councilman Manny Pelaez (D8) was wary of proposals that could make middle-income housing less available. In the committee meeting Thursday, he said that when he speaks to housing developers, “There is anxiety in that community that we’ll be making a more expensive product.”

“I’m most excited about those parts of the plan that are more carrot and less stick,” Pelaez said. “If we can focus on getting people’s buy-in, I think you have more success every time you do that.”

How CPS Energy officials will respond to the call to cut fossil fuels from their energy portfolio is also unclear.

Last year, while the climate planning process was getting started, the utility came out with a proposal to by 2040 generate 50 percent of its electricity using solar and wind. The rest of its portfolio would be 13 percent natural gas, 9 percent nuclear, 7 percent coal, and 5 percent energy storage, potentially through massive batteries. Another 16 percent would come from “flexible generation,” which officials have purposely left vague.

Edward A. Ornelas for the Rivard Report

A view of the Akuo Energy Rocksprings Wind Farm, at sunset, along U.S. Route 377.

Currently, its portfolio is approximately 45 percent natural gas, 22 percent wind and solar, 18 percent coal, and 14 percent nuclear.

Asked to comment on the draft climate plan, CPS Energy officials sent an emailed statement saying that Navigant “provided broad baseline analytical information.”

“Since the goals outlined in the [climate plan] may have very interesting and far-reaching impacts on our community and customers, in the spring of 2019, CPS Energy will review [Navigant’s] information more extensively and will also develop additional information and context aligned to specific applicable energy scenarios,” the statement continued. “These helpful scenarios will be shared publicly for the purpose of helping to build better understanding among all stakeholders about the [plan’s] potential future impacts that relate primarily to energy. We are excited to have an open dialogue with the public and we are proud of our history in welcoming feedback from our customers.”

Removing fossil fuels from San Antonio’s transportation system could prove even more difficult.

“Transportation I think is our big challenge,” Melnick said. “We are really large and designed around the automobile. There’s really no easy fix.”

However, many of its proposals are in line with the ConnectSA transportation plan that City and County officials revealed last month. Around $61 million in Volkswagen settlement funds earmarked for San Antonio could help provide funding to convert gasoline and diesel vehicles to electric, though they could also be used for natural gas vehicles.

Even with these and a slew of other changes proposed in the plan, carbon sequestration technology that pulls greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere will be necessary for the city to go carbon-neutral, the plan states.

The plan calls for an update every two years to San Antonio’s greenhouse gas inventory, “so we’ll know how we’re doing,” Melnick said.

After reviewing the plan, many of San Antonio’s environmentalists came out Thursday saying it doesn’t go nearly fast enough. Many in the Climate Action SA coalition of environmental and social justice groups are calling for CPS Energy to abandon coal and natural gas by 2030 and for the whole city to become a carbon sink by 2050.

“We cannot pretend that carbon-neutral by 2050 is an acceptable goal,” said Yaneth Flores, cultural organizer with the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center. “I am so tired of seeing this as some sort of game or joke by the City. … I want to believe there is good intent here, but I have not seen any action.”

Bill Hurley, a retired computer programmer and local representative of Citizens’ Climate Lobby, said he’s proud of this City Council for starting the process but that the plan “really needs some interim goals that are missing right now.”

Broadly, the plan calls for greenhouse gas reductions of at minimum 33 percent by 2030, 62 percent by 2040, and 88 percent by 2050. But many of the individual strategies do not include incremental milestones.

Melnick acknowledged that climate scientists are warning that time is running out to prevent the worst.

“We’re hearing and we’re reading that quicker action is needed,” Melnick said. “It’s just, how do you move that ship quickly enough?…We really need to continue this energy planning dialogue with CPS [Energy], with the community.”

Melnick and Nirenberg did recently score a major win in terms of implementing the plan. Earlier this month, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced his organization would commit up to $2.5 million to San Antonio in technical and expert support.

Melnick said San Antonio will get two contract employees from Natural Resources Defense Council, an international environmental group, housed in City offices, for two years. One will focus on buildings and housing, the other on transportation, he said.

A 30-day public comment period on the plan begins Friday. Plans call for the draft to be presented to the Planning Commission in late February and early March, then for a final version to go to City Council for approval in mid-April.

36 thoughts on “Climate Plan Calls for San Antonio to Phase Out Fossil Fuels by 2050

  1. The Paris accord is based on falsified data. This quaint and naive sentimental attachment to junk science will make the great city of San Antonio into the Lone Star equivalent of Detroit.

    Let’s have some policy based on unequivocal evidence that actually helps improve the environment and our lives.

    • Thank you Dr. GJS. And you have read the Paris Accord and know this to be true.
      Get your head out of the sand (or another dark, warm spot).
      “quaint and naive”?? There is plenty of unequivocal evidence available – you just need to learn to read and quit being a naysayer.
      I’m not going to say “I told you so” when the average temperature in San Antonio is 110 degrees (in “winter”) and you have to wear an oxygen mask.

      • According to projections, which are only that, a guess, the day of reckoning is 100 years away. What’s your secret? I mean, how will you be here to say I told you so. Share it.

  2. Until green measures become more obtainable by the common folk, and citizens who do it the right way are allowed to live off the grid, it won’t happen

  3. There’s no way a or any utility company will ever stop using fossil fuels, its the basis of all generation. You enviro wackos will place everyone in to the dark-ages again. There is nothing wrong with Co2 its why trees and plants turn green and grow better. You enviros think you can control climate/weather, no chance you didn’t create it, everything is natural occurrences. God created the Earth and all else, He will say when its done.

    • Oh please……………..
      no there is nothing wrong with anything, unless it gets to the point of too much (like Co2), then you choke and die.
      Good luck. Talk to God when you are on life-support and can’t breathe.

    • The plan was developed by a steering committee and working groups that comprised more than 90 individuals from the San Antonio community, representing diverse interests and areas of expertise (myself included). I did not observe any sheep on the committees. You might also be interested to know that Councilwoman Ana Sandoval, who was a huge supporter of this effort has a B.S. from MIT in Chemical Engineering, M.S. at Stanford University in Civil and Environmental Engineering, and a Master’s in Public Health from the Harvard School of Public Health, and she actually worked in the field of climate science. What are your qualifications?
      I would encourage you to read the plan and attend some of the public meetings to get better informed on this important topic.

  4. This report states that San Antonio must replace 63% of its current energy portfolio in the next 30 years. In addition, all vehicles in the city must be replaced with electric cars. The odds on achieving this type of change without massive government intervention are quite low.

    However, it has been encouraging to see the city move its energy portfolio away from coal and towards solar and wind alternatives during the past decade. The true market driver here is a combination of tax incentives and advances in technology and efficiency. The market will ultimately determine whether the goals are reachable. I am not against using government incentives and tightened regulations to promote improvement, but it has to be coupled with some kind of economic realism. All indications are that coal is on its way out, but I think that natural gas power plants will be around in Texas long past 2050.

  5. Climate Change, just a new political religion that wishes to force political obedience on the masses. Let’s protect the environment instead of attempting to control the natural cycles of climate.

    • Adding 30 billion tons of CO2 to the atmosphere every year from burning fossil fuels is causing surface temperatures to warm. That’s a fact. CO2 concentrations are now higher than they have been since about 4 million years ago when the Earth was a much hotter place. This is not a natural cycle. I encourage you to read the real peer reviewed scientific literature on the topic and not politically motivated denialist propaganda. Also, read the plan for yourself and attend some of the public meetings so you can be better informed.

        • It does no good to cripple our city/country when the biggest polluters in the world are required to do next to or nothing! Signing on to the Paris Climate Accord as a city is laughable.

          I read the city’s 5 step plan. It will raise housing prices and we already have an affordable housing problem. Unless more electric cars are produced and are affordable, and infrastructure is available to charge them nationwide it will be difficult to sell this idea-especially as the U.S. becomes one of the world’s largest oil producers ,coal energy has been made much cleaner and clean natural gas is abundant. The city’s transportation plan as it stands does nothing to decrease the carbon footprint of driving a car–this is a large, spread out city–bike lanes, sidewalks and scooters are not a mode of transportation unless you live close to where you work; the lack of urban planning over past decades makes working near employment centers an unavailable option. The lack of urban planning even today increases the heat in this city-how much development chooses concrete over green spaces/trees? Maybe the city should have and still should require development that is good for the city aesthetically and environmentally! Clear cutting seems to be standard practice as you drive around the city. We have Climate ‘equity’ –the assistance programs talked about in the EN article already exist.

          Further, I suggest the politicians, celebrities, etc, who are proponents of climate change give up the private jets, large houses and fuel consuming cars before they start telling the rest of us what we need to do.

          Most people are willing to take steps to help the environment and preserve it for future generations, but those things must be measured and reasonable and do-able.

  6. Ignorance is no excuse. Our council members need to do their homework, read the report, and get real about the dangers of our industrially warming climate. CPS Energy, which has been asleep at the switch as long as CEO Paula Gold-Williams came into her position, has been given a pass for a long time. But as Mayor Nirenberg said recently, we are the owners of our utility and we get to decide how they generate our power, which is the bulk of our city’s total climate pollution inventory. It is time our Council stand up for real climate action and demand the same from our utility. Shutting down Spruce by 2025—eliminating more than a third of all of our climate pollution in a swoop—needs to be a cornerstone of this plan. Then we can truly get on with building up a new energy economy based upon the principles of a just energy transition that we can all be proud of.

  7. Total world population is 7.5 billion. By 2050 it will be 10 billion. The efforts is a pipsqueak city like SA will have zero impact on climate. This program will waste valuable resources that should go to preparing the city to deal with change, instead of tilting against the inevitable. This is the height of arrogance.

    Anyway, ACO says life will end in twelve years. Why don’t we just party.

  8. Regarding requiring everyone to switch to electric vehicles raises some questions. Is it practical for buses, large delivery vehicles, construction equipment, etc to be powered by electricity? If we have nothing but electric vehicles how much more power will CPS need to provide? Will it be able to do it? How much more land will have to be devoted to wind and solar farms? How much will it all cost? What about vehicles coming from our side the city? Will we have guards to prevent their entry? How much will that cost, and will we be prepared to deal with the legal issues? It seems at a minimum there are issues of interstate commerce. And will we be prepared to handle the legions of unemployed as companies flee the city to avoid a city intent on slitting its own throat?

  9. How about we invest in Molten Salt Thorium reactors that have the potential to power the WORLD for thousands of years!! It’s clean, safe, and doesn’t leave radioactive waste that has the half life of 100,000 years. Next let the free market decide how cheap and affordable electric cars can be. If someone can build it, sell it, and maintain it, at an affordable cost, people will buy it. Lastly how about we invest in electric high speed bullet trains or other safe and clean mode of intercity/ interstate travel. These politicians feel like it’s their sacred duty to save the planet one stupid idea at a time. If they really want to help, get out of the way and let innovation, ingenuity, and the creative human mind solve these issues.

  10. Haven’t read the whole plan yet but I hope it includes policy to increase density, reduce sprawl in our city. Green building will only get us so far…
    “Research suggests that simply increasing density could be a place to start—and get cities much of the way toward their carbon emission-reduction goals. A 2014 London School of Economics study determined that large global cities, with a “modest blend of pro-density housing and transit policies,” could cut their emissions by a third by 2030. Urbanist Peter Calthorpe calculated that through urban densification alone, the United States could achieve half the carbon reductions needed to hold global temperatures to a rise of 2 degrees Celsius (4 degrees Fahrenheit).”
    https://www.curbed.com/platform/amp/2018/12/11/18136188/city-density-climate-change-zoning

    • ugh, read the plan. super disappointed. Land use got very, very little mention, and the “implementation actions” under land use are not even implementation actions, are super vague and pointless – some have nothing to do with climate change.

  11. There is something called “base power”. This is the power that must be generated 24/7. There will be an increase in base power demand by approx. 25% for the electric car. The fossil fuel/nuclear power options are good at base power. The others are good at augmentation to base power, but do not confuse the two power demands. (Ie. solar only generates during the day.) The solution to the increased demand for base power is missing from this report.

  12. Funny as heck the climate accord doesn’t account for even a single volcanic eruptions dumping hundreds of tons of gas into the air. And how about that big orange ball that floats in the sky? Solar cycles do more to affect the climate than anything else.

    • Human fossil fuel use adds 30 billion tons of CO2 into the air each year. That is more than 100 times all other natural sources combined, including volcanoes.

  13. Lovely Idea…Ask Georgetown Texas how the 100% renewable and green plan has worked out! Is this what CPS ratepayers have to look forward to with our city’s Utopian vision plan.

    “$1,219 per household in higher electricity costs for the 71,000 residents of Georgetown, Texas, all thanks to the decision of its Republican mayor, Dale Ross, to launch a bold plan to shift the city’s municipal utility to 100 percent renewable power in 2012 when he was on the city council.”

    “Georgetown is now trying to renegotiate its costly long-term wind and solar energy contracts—this, after the city council agreed to skimp on needed electric infrastructure investment to make up their budgetary shortfall.”

    The details are taken from a recent article available on the Texas Public Policy Foundation website entitled:
    “Texas town’s environmental narcissism makes Al Gore happy while sticking its citizens with the bill!” By The Honorable Chuck DeVore|January 29, 2019
    ENERGY & ENVIRONMENT
    Originally published by Fox News on January 29, 2019

    “Political leaders in a college town in central Texas won wide praise from former Vice President Al Gore and the larger Green Movement when they decided to go “100 percent renewable” seven years ago. Now, however, they are on the defensive over electricity costs that have their residents paying more than $1,000 per household in higher electricity charges over the last four years.”

    “But while Ross was being lauded far and wide, the residents of his town were paying a steep price. His decision to bet on renewables resulted in the city budget getting dinged by a total of $29.8 million in the four years from 2015 to 2018. Georgetown’s electric costs were $3.5 million over budget in 2015, ballooning to $6.3 million in 2016, the same year the mayor locked his municipal utility into 20- and 25-year wind and solar energy contracts to make good on his 100 percent renewable pledge.”

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