On Thursday, Sept. 5, Life:Powered, an initiative of the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF) to “raise America’s energy IQ,” hosted the event “A Bad Trade-Off: The Cost and Consequence of San Antonio’s Climate Policy.” This event was the third of a series of four events Life:Powered has been putting on throughout the summer in different parts of San Antonio. The event focused on the City of San Antonio’s proposed Climate Action and Adaptation Plan (CAAP), which will be up for voter approval on Oct 17. The goal of the CAAP, modeled after the Paris Climate Accord, is for San Antonio to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.
Rafael Bejar, the Director of Outreach for TPPF, said TPPF held this event on the south side of San Antonio because it is often not addressed in political discussions. Since all of San Antonio and (all of Texas) will be affected if the CAAP becomes law, all of San Antonio must be involved in the political process.
Brent Bennet, a policy analyst for Life:Powered with a Ph.D. in Materials Science and Engineering, explained the three goals of the CAAP. The first is that CPS Energy provides 100% carbon-free electricity. Life:Powered has done research proving that while materials costs for wind and solar energy are getting cheaper, total costs will increase because fossil fuels or expensive energy storage units will be necessary for when wind and solar energy inevitably fail.
Bennet said the city leaders have not thoroughly addressed how they will reach carbon neutrality and how they will pay for it. He mentioned the city of Georgetown, TX, which is $30 million in debt because, in their efforts to use 100% renewable energy, they did not account for the “costs of having too much wind and solar when you don’t need it, and not enough wind and solar when you do.” Bennet says San Antonio should focus on making its electricity “affordable and reliable” instead of “spending its way out of existence.”
The second part of the plan is the city transitioning to 100% electric vehicles for public transportation. Bennet explained that while the city can not force anyone to use electric vehicles, they can spend lots of money trying to encourage the public to do so.
Life:Powered believes choices like transportation should be left to the market. “We’re going to find more efficient ways to use our energy and to get around through our own choices as individuals,” said Bennet. Bennet also stated that the CAAP’s electric transportation efforts will raise everyone’s transportation costs and will harm poor people the most.
The final part of the CAAP is lowering buildings’ energy use and powering them with solar panels, which the city will enforce through avenues like zoning regulations and permitting. Bennet says the costs of this policy outweigh the benefits; the costs of housing will raise for “the people who can least afford it.” Bennet also mentioned CPS has already spent over $100 million on rooftop solar rebates that have “barely made a dent”.
Bennet said Life:Powered’s philosophy is that “prosperity and environmental quality go hand-in-hand,” and that to protect the environment, we need to increase our wealth at the same time.
Chuck DeVore, TPPF’s Vice President of National Initiatives and a former California Assemblyman, spoke about California’s energy policies, which are more restrictive than Texas’. The cost of electricity in California runs 50-88% higher than in Texas. “The challenge is: how do you do this and not impoverish those Americans who are at the lower end of the economic spectrum?” asked DeVore.
DeVore spoke further on the results of the city of Georgetown’s new energy policies. Georgetown’s electrical rates are now 63% higher per kilowatt hour than San Marcos’ are. For a battery unit to power a windless winter night in Texas, the city of Georgetown would need a 20,000 ton battery farm which would cost $400 million.
Jason Isaac, Senior Manager and Distinguished Fellow at Life:Powered, stated that believes the reason over 400 US cities have signed on to the Paris Climate Accord is political. He believes this because a Life:Powered study shows the US eliminating all carbon emissions will have only a 0.097 degree Fahrenheit difference by 2050.
Shifting to 100% wind, solar, and battery powered energy by 2030 will cost the state of Texas $120 billion or on average about $14,000 per family annually.
Isaac also said that San Antonio has the second-highest poverty rate in the nation, and half of the people below the poverty rate — over 129,000 people in San Antonio — pay over 29% of their income on electricity bills. Isaac thinks the city should be working to lower costs instead of “forcing silly regulations on businesses and homeowners [that] will do nothing but hurt the least among us.”
Life:Powered will host one more event on the CAAP before the vote takes place on Oct. 17.
Editor’s Note: Julia Westwick worked as an intern for the Texas Public Policy Foundation in the Summer of 2019.