Mitigating Climate Change Demands Flexible Plan, Community Buy-In

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A view of CPS Energy Spruce units.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

CPS Energy Spruce units.

In 1973, with mounting and clear scientific evidence about the impact of lead on health and children’s development, the federal government called for a phase-out of all lead in gasoline.

In retrospect, it seemed straightforward: produce gas without lead. However, more than 22 years passed before the United States completed the shift to unleaded gas.

Refineries needed to be modified, new pumps added at stations. Most families had to buy new cars that used unleaded gas. Simply put, there were too many political, consumer, and financial complexities to fully eradicate lead, despite consumer fears about its impact on children.

Today, as the world seeks to mitigate and address the effects of climate change, history – and the unpredictability of our future – should serve to set realistic expectations and help guide public policy. As obvious as this may seem, there is a growing public impatience for action.

Scientists are finding increasing evidence that climate change is not only occurring now, but its effects are also accelerating. Experts expect that San Antonio will begin to see increasingly longer hot summers coupled with more extreme rainfall and flooding events throughout the year. Worried about weather-related disasters, people want responses from their elected leaders.

However, public policy and action cannot be reactionary – it must be informed, realistic, and strategic. That is why the City of San Antonio has produced its draft Climate Action and Adaptation Plan (CAAP).

Constructed over the past year and informed by experts and industry, the CAAP proposes a variety of strategies to mitigate weather impacts on our city and reduce the carbon-based emissions that contribute to climate change. The timeline for action is phased over the next 30 years.

The CAAP should be viewed as an initial framework of goals and strategies rather than a rigid path forward. Once City Council adopts the CAAP, much more complicated policy conversations will begin. Some have criticized the CAAP as “imperfect,” because it lacks specific implementation details or timelines. This is by design.

The CAAP must be both strategic and flexible. There are too many uncertainties before us that will impact our ability to reduce local carbon-based emissions. Over the next 30 years, we will have no less than four presidential administrations. Legislatures will change, as will laws affecting environmental policies. Technologies and efficiencies will change dramatically. Some argue that we will all be riding in autonomous electric vehicles within the next 20 years.

At some point, new technologies (such as better battery storage technology) will become commercially available, permitting the adoption of more renewable energy. All of these will have dramatic influences on our energy use and emissions once they occur.

I can appreciate the desire to settle the uncertainties in the CAAP today; however, we must resist the temptation of fixed solutions to scenarios that will change in the coming years and decades.

While the overall climate action goals of the CAAP should be constant, our local policies must remain adaptive and smart so as to not cost-burden our citizens or businesses. We also must understand the implications and challenges for pursuing these strategies.

One prominent example of this is CPS Energy’s J.K. Spruce coal-fired generating plant. While removing the emissions would dramatically advance the CAAP goals, any proposal to close the plant must consider how the utility would replace the 2,000-plus megawatts of electricity generated at Spruce with another reliable, on-demand source of power.

Such decisions must be carefully and thoughtfully evaluated, with a transparent understanding of costs.

Like the removal of leaded gas, implementation of CAAP strategies will be complicated.  Many of the CAAP strategies will take many years to plan and smartly implement.

That type of long-term commitment to policy goals requires broad support from the entire community, and we will work to ensure that voices from throughout the community are heard in this process.


10 thoughts on “Mitigating Climate Change Demands Flexible Plan, Community Buy-In

  1. CPS Energy and local business leaders, investors, entrepreneurs and environmental academia could form a public/private partnership to create a new environmental industry for the local economy. If successful, perhaps a portion of this revenue could go towards companies that suffer from the high cost of compliance. The overall goal could be an opportunity for San Antonio to become a leader in this new market.

  2. In the same way we didn’t prepare for explosive growth on the north side (sell, sell, sell that land … what? transit plan?) and failed to predict the biblical Scooter Swarm of ’18-’19, this plan charts out, best we are able, the major shifts around the curve that we must adjust for. And those we see as improving the lives of our families and communities. It’s not the definitive three-volume guide to the future, but it’s a respectably well-built-out Yelp review (with plenty of positive ratings and handy map). The changes it calls for are these being driven around the world both by necessity and the natural process of innovation.

    After choosing not to engage in this year-long planning process, a few so-called leaders in the business community have stooped to a resistance of fearmongering (they’re banning cars! Valero will quit SA!). By failing to see the clean energy revolution that has priced out coal and is closing in on natural gas, or the obvious rise of the electrification of transportation, or the need for a new regenerative economy that eliminates waste while tackling the dire changes underway in our world, these few expose themselves as champions of the last century, out of touch with today, and incapable of maximizing the business opportunities of tomorrow. Filling the vacuum their ignorance has created: the CAAP playbook.

    I appreciate and agree with the mayor’s comments here that the CAAP is an important framework. In fact, it’s a vital one. Passage is critical. Implementation must prioritizes the needs of those most at risk from the rise of extreme weather. By offering more clarity as to the challenges ahead, and prioritizing our potential responses to them, the plan allows us to also maximize opportunities for all. Where I continue to respectfully disagree is in the suggestion that the CAAP meets our commitment to climate pollution reductions capable of reaching “well below” two degrees temperature rise, the challenge of Council’s original directive that launched this process. We cannot meet this challenge if we don’t have solid interim carbon reduction targets. That is why we say close Spruce by 2025.

    There are two big slices in this pollution pie in the CAAP: “buildings” (a euphemism for the coal and gas plants powering those buildings) and transportation. Transforming our transportation landscape will take decades. Eliminating Spruce’s 7 million tons of annual climate pollution (more than a third of the city’s entire pollution inventory), while bringing on new clean-energy solutions to fill the gap, can happen in a matter of years. It’s time for CPS to step up. If they won’t do it, it falls on our mayor and council to make this decision for them. For the betterment of all San Antonians—and families across the globe.

    Hope to see many of you at 7pm tonight at the public hearing:

  3. Natural gas is an antiquated source of energy and although cleaner still a non-renewable derived from fossil fuels. LA made the right choice to discontinue rebuilding natural gas plants and go electric. San Antonio should be the example as well to go electric and not just play catch up. Austin is at 44 percent for renewable energy and we need to be on par with our sister city.

    • Renewables are expensive and inefficient. NG is a great alternative to coal. Because Austin is doing something might actually be reason for NOT doing something. I still need someone to explain to me how you justify status as a sanctuary city, encouraging thousands of illegals to seek refuge here and then talk to the electorate about reducing their carbon footprint and making it affordable for the poor and provide new green housing. Talk about a contradictory set of policy initiatives. Btw, the catch all of mutually exclusive directives is why no one with a modicum of intellectual consistency takes the leadership in this town seriously.

  4. Lacking details in policy implementation and a timeline gives beurocracy and involved agencies a hall pass to not make change and makes it difficult for people to advocate for change. The report is too flexible and too broad. Nothing is likely to get implemented.

  5. San Antonio is already reducing our emissions every year due to almost zero emission fossil fuel vehicles, electric vehicles more efficient HVAC systems, better insulation for our buildings, carbon capturing technology for power plants and cement kilns, solar panels, etc. We do not need to scare our citizens into believing that unless we take even more expensive carbon lowering measures that our local climate will quickly transform into a nearly uninhabitable region with common 1000 year floods, desert like summers and long lasting droughts.

    I have studied our local weather for most of my life and despite higher CO2 levels, we are still the same chaotic weather city that we always have been. Since I’ve lived here (over 55 years), I’ve seen droughts, floods, extreme temperature contrasts and a January in 1985 when over a foot of snow fell. We live on a weather pendulum geographic border between the deserts of Mexico and the almost rain forests of the SE. We have and will always see “climate change” every year.

    From Dr. Bjorn Lomborg:

    “Paris climate promises will reduce temperatures by just 0.05°C in 2100

    A new peer-reviewed paper by Dr. Bjorn Lomborg published in the Global Policy journal measures the actual impact of all significant climate promises made ahead of the Paris climate summit.

    The climate impact of all Paris INDC promises is minuscule: if we measure the impact of every nation fulfilling every promise by 2030, the total temperature reduction will be 0.048°C (0.086°F) by 2100.”

  6. I am glad to see others have read the CAAP plan and come with sound and reasonable concerns. For any city council members to get behind this plan with such vague idea on costs, impact financially to citizens and how steep any regulations will be is a council person not serving the interests of their citizens. The requirement to move out of affordable/reliable/abundant source of energy called ‘fossil fuel’ would be detrimental to SA, there are no models available that show any catastrophic event such as the earth ending in 12 years, these are conflated words and scare tactics and irresponsible talk, to me they border on immoral. Many models exist that debunk the sea level rising, health issues related to C02 and these should be considered.

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