Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
In a reveal of its short-term plans for its future power supply, CPS Energy officials have proposed adding new solar and battery storage to the utility’s portfolio and buying power from an existing natural gas plant, according to a Wednesday news release.
As part of what its leaders are calling “Power BundleFlex,” San Antonio’s municipally owned electric and gas utility is suggesting adding 300-900 megawatts of solar energy capacity and 10-50 megawatts of battery storage, along with purchasing 300-500 megawatts of natural gas capacity purchased through a 5- to 10-year agreement with an operator of an existing gas plant that’s already selling power onto the Texas grid.
The new solar capacity would include both power purchase agreements, similar to leases, with solar generators that own their own solar farms, as well as solar farms that CPS Energy owns and operates.
The proposal didn’t include any immediate plans to build any new power plants or shutter CPS Energy’s existing coal, nuclear, or natural plants. The utility owns or has access to approximately 1,000 megawatts of wind power, 1,000 megawatts of nuclear, 550 megawatts of solar, 1,350 megawatts of coal, and nearly 3,400 megawatts of natural gas.
At a panel discussion Wednesday organized by local environmentalists, CPS Energy Chief Operating Officer Cris Eugster said the utility needs to “use those plants that we have in the fleet today to bridge into this world of 100 percent renewables.”
“If we retire some of our fleet ahead of schedule, we will have to build new big base-load power plants, and we don’t want to do that,” Eugster said.
The announcement is CPS Energy’s most significant when it comes to its future power supply since March 2018, when it unveiled its Flexible Path program that tentatively outlined a transition toward renewables over the next two decades.
Under that plan, CPS Energy would get 50 percent of its energy from wind and solar in 2040. Another 13 percent would come from natural gas, 9 percent from nuclear, and 7 percent from coal. Battery storage would account for 5 percent, and the utility has assigned the remaining 16 percent to “flexible generation,” a placeholder for technology that might not yet be economically viable.
In a phone interview, Jonathan Tijerina, senior director of corporate communications, said the utility is not in talks with any specific solar or gas providers as part of the proposal announced Wednesday. He stressed that announcement is intended to spur additional public input.
“These numbers are fluid,” Tijerina said. “They really are to get the conversation going. We have not made any decisions on what the final numbers will look like.”
Tijerina said CPS Energy is also soliciting public comments at its website, where it has posted a survey form.
After briefly reviewing the announcement, Chrissy Mann, senior representative of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign, said she was unsure of the announcement’s purpose.
“It’s always exciting to see CPS Energy moving forward with renewable energy and storage,” Mann said. “What we really were looking forward to and expecting was CPS Energy not to be unveiling a new resources package but to unveil a new process of community buy-in. That’s what we thought we were going to see this summer.”
Tijerina said the numbers are intended to be “conversation-starters” and that any new power purchase agreements would have to go through a formal request for proposals process.
“Right now, it’s more about going out there, having the conversation, talking about this information and hearing back from our customers,” Tijerina said.