Nuclear foes rip CPS negotiations

March 9, 2011

By Tracy Idell Hamilton
San Antonio Express-News

Anti-nuclear activists gathered in front of City Hall on Tuesday to object to CPS Energy’s recent decision to discuss buying more power from the two reactors that might be add to the South Texas Project.

Two dozen people held banners and signs like "Solar Sí, Nuclear No" as speakers described their disbelief that CPS Energy once again is talking to erstwhile partner NRG Energy about buying more power from the reactors, presuming they’re built.

"We’re outraged," said Amanda Haas of the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center. "Why are we back in the same place we were two years ago?"

Opponents ticked off a litany of reasons CPS should not buy more power, including the specter of increased costs, more nuclear waste and the risk to American taxpayers who would be on the hook if the project defaults after getting federal loan guarantees.

"Nuclear was a bad idea then, and it’s a bad idea now," said Maria Berriozábal, a former city councilwoman and social justice activist. "CPS Energy can expect an angry citizen outcry if they decide to seriously consider NRG’s offer."

NRG hasn’t made an offer just yet.

On Monday, a team of CPS executives met with representatives from the investor-owned utility for the first time since CEO Doyle Beneby received board approval to hear NRG’s pitch to either increase the utility’s investment in the project or buy more power for an agreed-on price for a certain number of years.

CPS owns 7.6 percent of the project, or about 200 megawatts.

Beneby has said he’s more inclined toward a purchase power agreement than an increased share of the project, because it affords the utility more protections.

Beneby says he’s listening to NRG because he needs 851 megawatts to replace those lost when he shutters the Deely coal plants, likely by 2018. He wants those megawatts to be cheap and have lower emissions than coal, and is looking at nuclear, natural gas and other options.

Opponents Tuesday also focused on the messy divorce between CPS and NRG last year, asking why CPS would even consider talking to a group it accused of malfeasance and fraud in a $32 billion lawsuit.

That lawsuit never was fought. Instead, the parties agreed to litigate an earlier suit that sought to clarify CPS’ rights if it chose to pull out of the crumbling nuclear deal. But CPS must now live with the negative portrait it painted of its former partner.

Beneby, who wasn’t with CPS at the time, said the utility has "400 million reasons" to listen to NRG, referring to the roughly $400 million the utility has invested in the expansion.

"That’s a huge amount of money to get nothing for," he said.

He’s been meeting with community groups of all stripes since he arrived last summer; he met with several nuclear opponents Monday and a group of business people last week.

He said their concerns were almost the exact opposite: The business people "wanted to know why I was retiring a coal plant that is producing cheap power, and why CPS entered into solar and wind deals with no public input."

Beneby said he will bring any proposed deal to the Board of Trustees for approval.