Courtesy / Lake/Flato Architects
EPIcenter, a newly-formed nonprofit that aims to transform a 106-year-old CPS Energy power plant on the Mission Reach into a hub for clean energy technology and ideas, has acquired its first CEO, Kimberly Britton.
Britton left her position as director of development at the San Antonio Museum of Art on March 11 to lead the EPIcenter's fundraising, business organization, programming, construction and staffing efforts. CPS Energy Vice President of Generation and Strategy Cris Eugster announced Britton's new position during the CPS Energy Board meeting on Monday afternoon. Monday was also Britton's first official day on the job.
"I feel like I have been trained for this time and this day for a very long time," Britton said after the meeting. Most of her career has been spent in nonprofit development and executive leadership, but she also brings with her more than a year's worth of experience as community relations director for Chesapeake Energy Corp.'s regional office in Fort Worth.
While at Chesapeake, she learned about "the challenges of moving toward clean energy, the scalability of it, the affordability of it," she said. "But the industry has made such strides that we are set up beautifully to further explore – to innovate – around that topic."
EPIcenter, formally Energy Partnerships Innovation Center, will be part energy museum – playing off of the historic building and technology -- and part think-tank for industry and thought leaders around the city, country, and even world to gather to educate the public, research new technologies, and become a "flagship" for the Southside neighborhood.
It's been more than a year since CPS Energy and partners announced the vision for the EPIcenter, spearheaded by former President and CEO Boyle Beneby. When Beneby left to lead Chicago-based New Generation Power International (NGPI) in October 2015, some were concerned that EPIcenter plans would fizzle out.
But the board has carried on the momentum for EPIcenter and other renewable energy initiatives as it continues its search for a replacement CEO of its own.
"The EPIcenter is full steam ahead," said CPS Energy spokesperson Paul Flaningan. "Even though it took a while to onboard Kimberly, the vision was always there and we always knew we were going to move forward with that project."
Executive search firm Russell Reynolds was used to reach out to several national and international candidates.
"They went all around the world to come back to San Antonio," Britton said with a laugh. "I was very happy at the (San Antonio Museum of Art). I loved what we were doing there and we had phenomenal results."
But the EPIcenter is "a perfect fit," she added.
The nonprofit has $15 million in seed money to work with that has been donated by corporate partners already participating in CPS Energy's so-called New Energy Economy initiatives. Those partners include OCI Solar Power, which was contracted to build 400 MW of solar for CPS Energy; Silver Spring Networks, which installed and maintains CPS Energy's wireless smart meter communications network; and Landis + Gyr, smart meter manufacturer. CPS Energy will donate the power plant and the land it sits on the EPIcenter in a coming deal that is all but officially inked.
The appraisal for the building and five-acre plot of land will be performed in the coming weeks, Flaningan said.
Preliminary cost estimates for the EPIcenter renovation and construction have fallen between $30 million and $50 million – but it could be done in phases.
"It will not be (done) soon enough for any of us," Britton said of the anticipation for the center. "We have to build a structure, we have to get our marketing plan in place, and the biggest issue is the fundraising piece of it. You've got to have money to establish your mission and beyond. That will drive the timing."
Determining the programming scope and details of the building and land will be another key priority.
"It all will come together simultaneously. We can't only do fundraising and neglect the organizational structure or the architectural plans," she said. "It all has to be done a little bit at a time."
As utilities across the nation seek to incorporate more renewable energy sources onto the grid, San Antonio finds itself ahead of the curve, at least in Texas, due to focused investments on solar energy production and programs.
"The time is so right (for EPIcenter)," Britton said, because the coming generation of consumers, business owners, political leaders, and workers "are very comfortable with the idea of clean energy and the importance of it."
The nonprofit's website is still under construction at www.EPIcenterSA.org.
Top image: Preliminary rendering of the EPicenter's courtyard. Courtesy of Lake/Flato Architects.