How this 300-year-old city is leading on U.S. solar, energy-water, and climate action

On May 5, 2018, the city of San Antonio officially became 300 years old! On that day in 1718, the Presidio San Antonio de Béxar (a Spanish fort) was founded. The city’s tricentennial celebration will culminate in a weeklong celebration of history, art, and culture the first week of May.

San Antonio is a unique place that should be honored in Texas and beyond. In addition to its strong Hispanic heritage, the city boasts a large military population, straddles the border between eastern, western, and southern U.S., and claims to be the birthplace of breakfast tacos.

This growing city also has a powerful role to play in the future of Texas and the United States in terms of climate change and air quality, as evidenced by its initiatives around renewable energy, the energy-water nexus, and climate action. With all this in mind, let’s take a moment to celebrate not just San Antonio’s momentous birthday, but also its impressive efforts to ensure the sustainability of the city going forward.

Leading in Texas solar

The Alamo City has taken great strides to incorporate more renewable energy sources into its electricity generation mix, hitting 20 percent of its overall capacity in 2016, four years before the city’s target year. Texas advocates have commended San Antonio’s municipally owned electric and gas utility, CPS Energy, for the way it values the long-term benefits of solar to the community.

In fact, San Antonio recently jumped to number six on a list of U.S. cities with the most solar, due to a growth in solar capacity of 37 percent in 2017. The city was also one of 18 with a “Solar Star” designation for averaging more than 50 watts of solar per person. In total, there are 1,400 installments throughout the city, including community solar, utility-scale farms, and rooftop panels.

Through its utility, San Antonio is choosing to invest in clean energy over expensive retrofits for dirtier energy sources, which in turn helps reduce power sector pollution and better protects the vibrant community that resides there.

Energy-water nexus

A major part of San Antonio’s culture is the river that runs through downtown. The San Antonio River first brought settlers to the area, and the city was built around it, creating one of the city’s most popular destinations: the River Walk. San Antonians don’t get their water from that river (it comes mainly from the Edwards Aquifer), but in this dry South Texas town, water is central.

San Antonio has long been a leader in water conservation, and in recent years, it’s been leading the pack on the energy-water nexus, where the two sectors intersect. Because the city has local control over both its electricity and water, as well as a water-smart population, it has embodied best practices that can be adopted and applied to other cities’ energy-water challenges. Environmental Defense Fund’s (EDF) new case study, Capitalizing on energy-water nexus opportunities at the utility level, can help other cities learn from San Antonio’s example.

Specifically, other cities can follow San Antonio Water System’s (SAWS) and CPS Energy’s collaborative efforts, which have included:

  • engaging in joint rebates,
  • conducting joint audits of customer’s facilities, and
  • conducting audits on one another’s systems in order to identify opportunities for enhanced efficiency.

Additionally, designating at least one staff member at each utility as the lead for fostering collaboration opens up more opportunities for energy-water programs. Beyond rebates and communication, SAWS and CPS also acknowledge there are non-monetary costs when customers do not conserve energy and water, including negative effects on the environment and human health. The recognition of these costs has manifested in demand management programs in San Antonio, which reward the partner utility for reducing or shifting its energy demand during peak times, or conserving water during a drought.

San Antonio climate action plan

Following its sustainability plan of 2016 and the City Council’s resolution in support of the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement, the city last year announced development of its first climate action and adaptation plan, called San Antonio Climate Ready. CPS Energy and the University of Texas at San Antonio will lead an 18-month multi-stakeholder process to create a comprehensive climate action and adaptation plan for the city. EDF staff will participate in the process officially as technical advisors.

An important aspect of this climate plan is that it seeks the input of stakeholders throughout the city, a majority of which are in generations-deep Hispanic communities. These communities’ input is essential for preserving the city’s unique culture, while ensuring that it remains strong into the future. To that end, the city has created a technical working group on equity to ensure that the input of people most vulnerable to climate change is considered as the plan goes forward.

When the plan is completed, San Antonio could join Austin as the only two Texas cities with designated climate action plans.

And many more…

San Antonio can serve as an example to how to strive for integrated, inclusive, and innovative approaches to how we mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change, while protecting our resources and preserving our local cultures. We wish San Antonio a very happy 300th birthday and look forward to helping achieve the city’s clean energy and climate ambitions. ¡Feliz cumpleaños San Antonio!

By Kate Zerrenner, Jaclyn Rambarran

Photo source: Flickr/Tim Pearce

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