Shepherded into a meeting room in Cody Library within a suburb of San Antonio, dozens of people attended the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s (TPPF) town hall titled “A Bad Tradeoff: The Cost & Consequences of San Antonio’s Climate Policy.”
The topic of conversation was San Antonio’s proposed Climate Action and Adaptation Plan (CAAP), a local version of the much-discussed “Green New Deal.”
The plan generally has three pillars: making CPS Energy (the city’s only energy provider) 100 percent carbon-free, transitioning vehicles to carbon-free electric transportation, and retrofitting old buildings, while requiring new buildings, to be more energy-efficient.
The forum started off with an “update from city hall” by San Antonio City Councilman Clayton Perry. Perry did not and does not support the CAAP proposal as it stands. He stated that the next draft of the plan will come out in the next month.
“We can’t adopt a plan without knowing what the cost is going to be,” Perry concluded.
After Perry’s update, the panel began.
The panelists were Dr. Brent Bennett, a policy analyst with Life:Powered, TPPF’s energy project; former State Representative Jason Isaac, who serves as senior manager of Life:Powered; and Vice President of National Initiatives with TPPF, Chuck DeVore.
Bennett, who is an engineer and specializes in energy storage, led off the panel. One unforeseen problem Bennett says of transitioning to renewables is that despite the cost of energy production going down, the cost to back it up persists. He added, “to store just one hour of energy during San Antonio’s peak demand time would cost $1 billion.”
Bennett also touched on practical problems of something like switching solely to electric vehicles. One problem California didn’t foresee before switching their police force to electric cars was that “electric cars take much longer to charge up than to fill up a gas tank.”
He added that this was a small thing that complicated their efforts immensely.
Also, about California’s experiment with similar reforms, DeVore said, “We are seeing tremendous pressure put in states surrounding the Western grid because California is not storing enough electricity to make up for all of the solar and wind [energy] they are generating.”
He added, “California’s electricity cost is about 80 percent higher than in Texas, but their usage is one of the lowest in the country.”
DeVore added an example closer to home, that of Georgetown. Famous for its stated reliance on renewable energy, DeVore said he “ran the numbers” and found that “a 22,000-ton battery pack costing $400 million is needed to power one 12-hour period during the winter when the wind isn’t blowing much.”
The Texan recently covered Georgetown’s struggles with high costs and reliability.
Isaac, on the other hand, zeroed in on the Paris Climate Accord (which was one inspiration for CAAP).
Stating that enacting this plan would do very little on the global stage, Isaac mentioned that over 1,400 new coal plants are being built in China, a country that does not have to follow the Paris Climate Accord’s rules so long as “it’s growing economically.”
India falls into that category too.
Isaac added that according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports, “if the U.S. eliminated all carbon emissions by 2050, global temperatures would be reduced by 0.126 degrees Celsius.”
Regarding San Antonio’s dire energy cost situation, Isaac stated, “Americans spend 3.2 percent of their incomes on energy. In San Antonio, the bottom half of earners spend 29.4 percent of their incomes on energy.”
A question and answer series followed the presentations.
Some topics touched on during the Q&A were nuclear energy, short-term vs. long-term, the energy grid, transportation, barriers to energy trade with other states created by the Jones Act, and business’ role.
A somewhat testy exchange occurred when the panelists were pressed on the much-cited “97 percent consensus” of scientists who believe man-made climate change to be a significant problem.
About those scientists, DeVore said they largely do not consider how difficult reforms like these are to implement with strong voter-opposition to them.
A May poll conducted on behalf of TPPF documented San Antonians’ staunch opposition to paying more for their energy.
That potentially presents a substantial hurdle for the future of the CAAP proposal.
The CAAP plan will be brought back before the city council sometime in August where it could be revised from its current state.
It’s also unclear how last month’s closer-than-expected runoff election for San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg, who supports the CAAP proposal, will impact his efforts and ability to usher in the CAAP proposal.
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Brad Johnson is an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad watching and quoting Monty Python productions.