CPS to study reactors


Vicki Vaughan and William Pack
San Antonio Express-News Business Writers

CPS Energy's board voted unanimously Monday to invest more than $200 million on preliminary work that could mean the city will get more electricity from a nuclear plant.

The vote came after a lengthy and often contentious board meeting during which 22 citizens voiced their opposition to further investment in nuclear power. "

We think there are smarter alternatives," Tom Smith of the Texas office of Public Citizen, a consumer advocacy group, told the CPS board. He encouraged CPS to join Austin in looking for ways to generate more electricity that would be sold at a reasonable price.

Former City Council member Patti Radle urged the board to reject more nuclear power and push conservation of electricity. In a society where many affluent households have more than one television, along with computers, iPods and cell phones, Radle said, " Who'll take the leadership to say, 'We have enough?'"

The board adjourned to a two-hour, closed session after hearing citizens' comments before voting to spend $206 million on preliminary design work to add two reactors to the South Texas Project in Matagorda County.

CPS owns a 40 percent share of the nuclear plant, and CPS customers get about 38 percent of their electricity from it.

Mayor Phil Hardberger, who was the first on the CPS board to voice his support, said it was the toughest vote he's cast since he's been mayor. But nuclear-generated power appears to be the best option to answer the city's growing energy needs.

" In our global economy, we have to stay ahead of the curve," he said. " This really is now a necessity to do this."

Hardberger said the city will move aggressively to improve its energy conservation and efficiency measures, but it's not realistic to think that conservation alone will meet the city's electricity needs.

In late September, CPS quietly joined NRG Energy of New Jersey in filing an application with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to expand the South Texas Project. It was the first such application filed with the commission since 1978, a year before the Three Mile Island disaster.

NRG has said adding two reactors to the South Texas Project could cost more than $6 billion. NRG owns 44 percent of the South Texas Project, while Austin owns 16 percent.

Spending $206 million on preliminary reactor design likely will add $4 to $5 a month to residential customers' bills, CPS officials said last month.CPS spokesman Bob McCullough emphasized that Monday's vote isn't a final authorization to expand the nuclear plant. " This is a decision to determine if this is the best course of action for San Antonio. It's not signing a construction contract."

Representatives of the Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the San Antonio Manufacturers' Association spoke in favor of further investment in nuclear power, as did developer Charles Martin Wender.

" Companies moved here because of the low-cost power," Wender said. " Your decision will affect this community many years from now."

In December, CPS will begin a series of public forums seeking citizen comments on nuclear investment. Four meetings are planned for each of the city's four quadrants, and the utility plans to ask City Council members if they want to hold more meetings.

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