Back to mobile

San Antonio, the Clean-Energy City?

Look out Austin, SA Mayor Julian Castro promises to shut-down a coal plant by 2018.
by Published on

Big news out of San Antonio today…

At an event this afternoon at UT-San Antonio, Mayor Julian Castro announced a suite of green energy projects that he said would position San Antonio as the nation’s “recognized leader in clean energy technology” and help fulfill his aggressive environmental goals.

Most notably, Castro and leaders from CPS Energy, the city-owned utility, pledged to shut down one of its coal-fired power plants 15 years ahead of schedule. By 2018, the city would mothball the 871-megawatt J.T. Deely Power Plant  – a bold move in a growing state that’s seemingly addicted to coal.

The accelerated closing of Deely was a decision driven in part by economics. Federal clean-air regulations would have forced CPS to install new sulfur dioxide scrubbers on Deely’s stacks at a cost of $555 million.

San Antonio plans to make up for the loss of power from Deely through a mix of energy efficiency and new renewable energy projects, including two solar power plants announced today: a 30-megawatt facility to be built by SunEdison and a 50-plus-MW plant, with the provider yet to be selected. Together with a 14-MW facility that opened recently in South San Antonio, the solar plants would push the city close to its goal of 100-MW of solar power by 2020.

Mayor Castro also bragged on the clean-energy business growth in San Antonio, including the relocation of four companies – two of them, however, from nearby Boerne – to San Antonio, including SunEdison opening a regional headquarters there.

The announcements, Castro said, would “truly define the nexus between sustainability and job creation.” San Antonio, he said, could become to clean energy what Boston is to biotech or the Bay Area is to high-tech.

“San Antonio’s decision to phase out the Deely coal plant signals the beginning of the end of the coal-burning era and its associated air pollution and illness in Texas,” said Eva Hernandez, with Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign. 

Environmentalists were jubilant.

“San Antonio’s decision to phase out the Deely coal plant signals the beginning of the end of the coal-burning era and its associated air pollution and illness in Texas,” said Eva Hernandez, with Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign.

The excitement in San Antonio today stands in sharp contrast to slumping enthusiasm in Austin. Clean-energy boosters contends that Austin – and especially the city-owned Austin Energy – is rapidly losing ground to its bigger sister to the south. Activists have been disappointed that Austin Energy won’t commit to divesting from the Fayette Power Project, a coal-fired power plant near Fayetteville. They’re also frustrated with the utility’s relatively anemic solar-power and wind development in the past few years. (A single 30-megawatt solar project is underway east of town.)

“I think the take-home message is that San Antonio is about to leave Austin in the dust,” said Ryan Rittenhouse, of Public Citizen. “The entire rest of the country should be following their lead.”

Forrest Wilder, a native of Wimberley, Texas, is associate editor of the Observer. Forrest specializes in environmental reporting and runs the “Forrest for the Trees” blog. Forrest has appeared on Democracy Now!, The Rachel Maddow Show and numerous NPR stations. His work has been mentioned by The New York Times, the Washington Post, the New Yorker, Time magazine and many other state and national publications. Other than filing voluminous open records requests, Forrest enjoys fishing, kayaking, gardening and beer-league softball. He holds a bachelor's degree in anthropology from the University of Texas at Austin.