Courtesy / Lake/Flato Architects
Plans to develop a former CPS Energy power plant into an "epicenter" of energy education and technological innovation were officially unveiled Wednesday morning. The publicly owned utility's CEO Doyle Beneby was joined by Councilmember Shirley Gonzales (D5) and a host of representatives from local energy and logistics companies that have been working with CPS Energy on its New Energy Economy initiative.
EPIcenter – the building and the forthcoming nonprofit organization that will manage the project and its programming – will take the development of renewable energy sources to a new level, Beneby said.
"This New Energy Economy, the big concept (of it), is to transition this community to leverage our push towards renewable and low carbon-intense technologies along with commerce and building our community," he said. "(The EPIcenter) is unique in its focus in creating thought and action around the research and development of new and emerging technologies."
Gonzales said she was moved to tears when she was briefed on the EPIcenter concept years ago. She saw the center as something that "the whole country would have its eyes on, right in the middle of District 5 ... where so many people have lived and grown anticipating transformational projects like these."
The old power plant is across the San Antonio River's Mission Reach from the vacant Lone Star Brewery, which was recently purchased for development as a large residential and commercial project not unlike the Pearl Brewery's revitalization by Silver Ventures. Numerous other residential projects – Big Tex, La Tuna Site Residential, and others – will soon be renting to upper/middle-income neighbors in a predominantly low-income Southside.
(Read more: Could Lone Star Brewery Become ‘Pearl South’?)
"This is a lower-income area, many of the houses here are more than 100 years old," Gonzales said to the crowd gathered at Our Lady of the Lake University in the Westside. Click here to see a map of District 5. She lives just a few blocks away in one of those old homes. She said the broader mission of CPS Energy to make homes more energy efficient through appliance rebates and home inspections is what really connects families to their utility.
"(An electricity) bill for $200 a month is an incredible burden for this community," she said. "I'm so grateful for their vision to not only help the most vulnerable citizens ... but we can take care of every single person. From the most vulnerable to the most educated."
Before the big unveil, two panel discussions put the New Energy Economy into context with state and federal rebates and incentives, the business environment, CPS Energy's energy portfolio (a vast majority of which is still gas and oil), disruptive technologies, and customer relations.
CPS Energy does business with a wide range of companies – from product manufacturers (Mission Solar) to deployment and production (OCI Solar Power) to smart grid implementation (Silver Spring Network) and logistics to customer interaction (OPower).
So far, a total of about $15 million has been donated towards the center's development from OCI Solar Power, Silver Spring Networks, and Landis+Gyr. Zero public (ratepayer) dollars will be spent on the EPIcenter, said CPS Energy representatives Monday. The first phase of development is expected to be complete in early 2018.
*Featured/top image: Preliminary rendering of the EPicenter's courtyard. Courtesy of Lake/Flato Architects.