A local energy think tank has dropped its plans to redevelop a shuttered power plant on the Mission Reach of the San Antonio River as it continues refining its mission, its leadership says.
EPIcenter, a nonprofit started by CPS Energy in 2015 as an energy innovation hub, decided in June that it no longer plans to use the former power plant as its headquarters, EPIcenter CEO Kimberly Britton said. The decision means EPIcenter won’t have to raise money to pay for an upgrade of the power plant estimated at $75 million.
“We realized as we implemented our programs during the last four years that our mission is bigger than any one location, and it’s proven to be true,” said Britton, a former development director for the San Antonio Museum of Art who took the top job at EPIcenter in March 2016.
At the time, the shuttered electric generating facility that dates back to the 1900s was intended to be reborn with educational spaces and exhibits. In January 2017, Joeris General Contractors was selected to renovate the plant. Now, the location, valued at $6.2 million as of around three years ago, according to Britton, will likely be sold.
CPS Energy plans to put the building on the market in the next six to 18 months, CPS Energy President and CEO Paula Gold-Williams said in prepared statement.
In interviews this week, Britton said EPIcenter has made a “pivot” towards a “concentration on our programming, rather than a real estate play.” EPIcenter currently leases space in CPS Energy’s Navarro Street headquarters and at Geekdom and intends to lease offices of its own downtown.
For now, its seven employees are focused on putting together events and seminars that often bring in energy experts from around the country. The think tank also serves as an incubator for fledgling energy businesses. Increasingly, energy businesses from outside San Antonio have been signing on with EPIcenter for consulting services, Britton said.
Under former CPS Energy President and CEO Doyle Beneby, utility officials launched EPIcenter as part of what they called the “New Energy Economy” they hoped to build in San Antonio. “EPI” stands for “energy, partnership, and innovation.”
CPS Energy provided no funding for EPIcenter, providing only the in-kind donation of building space for its headquarters.
The $5 million in startup funding that has propelled EPIcenter through its early years came from three early partners: Silicon Valley technology company Itron, multinational utility supplier Landis+Gyr, and South Korean-owned, San Antonio-based solar manufacturer OCI Solar Power. OCI and Landis+Gyr followed up with another $5 million in in-kind funding, Britton said.
EPIcenter could have gotten another $5 million at the outset from its initial sponsors if it had pursued its Mission Road power plant headquarters, Britton said.
But instead, the think tank worked to expand its educational, business incubator, and consulting services. After starting with four initial clients in 2018, it is now serving 12 to 15 different energy-related businesses at any given time, Britton said. Around 45 percent of them are from outside San Antonio, she said.
“We’re able to deliver our programming in this very lean, nimble, 21st-century fashion that best meets the needs of our clients and our stakeholders,” Britton said. “We feel like this is the model of the future.”
EPIcenter’s goal is to be become self-sustaining by 2021, with plans to get 90 percent of its funding through consulting and incubator fees and another 10 percent from charitable support. Right now, that breakdown is more like 75-25, she said.
Gold-Williams said CPS Energy officials “ultimately realized that asking their team to focus on a big capital campaign was not the best use of their talents.”
“Alternatively, we can now better optimize EPIcenter’s nimbleness and talented staff,” Gold-Williams said. “They are concentrating their efforts on finding and vetting new promising ideas and companies that, over time, will help improve our efficiency while expanding the products and services we offer our customers.”
As for the Mission Road plant, CPS Energy expects “to receive a wide range of interesting proposals for the site,” Gold-Williams said.
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