As Thursday Vote Looms on Two New Reactors, Popular Opposition May Make Selling Nuclear Power More Difficult

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As Thursday Vote Looms on Two New Reactors, Popular Opposition May Make Selling Nuclear Power More Difficult

CPS Wholesale Customers Already Facing Public Relations Battles

SAN ANTONIO -  As a
Thursday vote on two new nuclear reactors looms, cities around the
state that purchase power from San Antonio’s municipal utility, City
Public Services (CPS), are balking at the prospect of buying pricey
nuclear power from the reactors.

Three
problems exist with the planned expansion at the South Texas Nuclear
Project (STP) facility. First, nuclear power creates dangerous
radioactive waste that no one has figured out how to dispose of safely.

Second,
nuclear power is expensive – the nuclear industry requires taxpayer
subsidies to prop it up. Third, no one knows for certain just how much
the construction of the two reactors will cost ratepayers.

The CPS
board recently recommended that CPS Energy, which owns a 50 percent
stake in the project along with NRG energy, reduce that share to 20 to
25 percent. CPS Energy and NRG Energy have been attempeting to sell a
joint 20 percent share for the past year, but a buyer has not yet been
found. If they can’t reduce their stake, they will be even more
responsible for any cost overruns and would be more likely to need to
increase rates to cover the project.

CPS
has announced that it wants to increase San Antonio ratepayer bills by
5 percent every two years over the next 10 years, in large part to pay
for the two new reactors. These rate increases could be as much as 8
percent every two years unless CPS can sell its share of the reactors,
as it is trying to do. 

"CPS
is trying to allay the fears of San Antonio and the City Council by
saying they’ll own only a 20 percent share, but they’re still on the
hook for a full 50 percent if they can’t find a buyer,” said Tom
“Smitty” Smith, director of Public Citizen’s Texas office. “Outside
cities and wholesale customers of CPS are wising up to the fact that
San Antonio’s nuclear expansion is not a good idea. We urge cities to
tell San Antonio: No new nuclear reactors.”

The
San Antonio City Council votes Thursday to approve $400 million in
bonds for nuclear energy, which will determine whether CPS moves
forward with the project.

Growing
opposition to nuclear power may make selling CPS’ unwanted shares of
STP more difficult. Citizen opposition to the STP project already has
caused delays in San Antonio, where the City Council put off a vote to
issue nuclear bonds for a month. Wholesale customers of CPS such as the
cities of Hondo, Georgetown and Kerrville also are seeing a rising tide
of public discontent about nuclear power.

“In an
energy market where demand is already down and cities could readily
meet their needs with clean energy sources such as efficiency, solar,
wind and more, cities looking to buy power from STP could be confronted
with a public relations battle over nuclear power,” said Smith.

 On
Oct. 13, the city of Hondo unanimously passed a resolution urging San
Antonio and CPS Energy to “not approve the expansion of the South Texas
Project nuclear power plant” and to “pursue safer, cleaner, more
affordable energy options and not additional nuclear reactors.”

 “We
introduced this resolution for Hondo because we want to power our city
with clean, safe energy that will benefit the economic development of
the area with green, sustainable jobs,” said Chavel Lopez, a member of
Hondo’s Council at the time the resolution was passed. “We hope that
this measure will set precedence for other cities purchasing
electricity from CPS Energy to take a stand. Other cities should pass
similar resolutions to show the San Antonio City Council that residents
of rural communities will be impacted in a negative way by this
proposal and the uncertainty of our electricity rates over the next 10
years.”

In
Georgetown and Kerrville, both of which CPS has identified as potential
buyers of their unwanted project shares, citizens are organizing to
urge their councils to pass similar resolutions. Last week in
Georgetown, a group of students at Southwestern University known as
Students for Environmental Activism and Knowledge (SEAK) held a press
conference asking the Georgetown City Council to reconsider its support
for the STP expansion and to do so in a public forum. Georgetown’s
long-term generation plan includes a goal of purchasing 30 percent
nuclear power by 2030, but given the fact that the estimated cost of
nuclear expansion has doubled since that goal was set, students are
calling on the Council to reevaluate that plan.

“Because
nuclear reactors come with a huge financial and environmental cost, we
are asking the City Council to reconsider their future generation plan
and refuse nuclear power from CPS Energy in San Antonio,” said Tanlyn
Roelofs with SEAK. “Nuclear power is too expensive, is not an
alternative to coal and uses too much water in a region already harmed
by drought.”

Representatives from SEAK will make a presentation to the Georgetown City Council on Tuesday.

Local
residents of Kerrville are similarly concerned that the Kerrville
Public Utility Board (KPUB) is being courted as a potential buyer of
San Antonio’s unwanted share of the STP expansion. 

“CPS
is over its head in this investment and is hoping that KPUB will be
foolish enough to take it off of their hands,” said Ann Morris
Cockrell, resident of Kerr County and long-time anti-nuclear activist.
“Why on earth would any city take on an investment that Wall Street
won’t – and if the City of San Antonio can’t handle it, why would they
think that a town the size of Kerrville can? Even a small share of this
plant could easily overwhelm our resources if the deal goes south.
Kerrville should follow Hondo’s lead and adopt a resolution against
nuclear involvement.”

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Public Citizen is a national, nonprofit consumer advocacy organization founded in 1971 to represent consumer interests in Congress, the executive branch and the courts.

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