SAWS and CPS Energy Partner for Pump Station Backup Power Plan
San Antonio — A year and a half after faucets in Bexar County went dry during the February 2021 freeze, the San Antonio water system has a $202 million plan to keep water flowing if it happens again .
And the utility is partnering with CPS Energy for part of it.
At a joint meeting Wednesday afternoon, directors of the two utilities approved an agreement that would see the shared use of natural gas generators at 15 SAWS pump stations.
SAWS will pay the $97 million to acquire and install the generators, and CPS Energy will operate them. The electric utility could also use them for its electricity needs in the meantime, and the two utilities would then share the revenue.
The rest of SAWS’ $202 million plan calls for diesel-powered backup generators at 21 other sites, which it would operate. The utility wants all 36 sites to be completed within seven years.
A CPS Energy executive said the plan for the 15 shared generators shouldn’t affect power rates, and SAWS chief operating officer Steve Clouse said the same for water rates.
However, Clouse said the effect of the other 21 generators on rates has yet to be determined.
“We are looking at tariffs for the future and have not made any decision on this,” he told KSAT.
The water utility’s “Emergency Power Plan” (EPP) is required under a state law stemming from the freeze, Senate Bill 3, which requires SAWS to have a plan to maintain its system water pressure high enough to avoid a boil water advisory after a 24-hour power outage.
Clouse said SAWS’ plan has been submitted to the state but not yet approved. He is more than confident that will be the case, however, telling reporters: “If they don’t approve our plan, no plan will be approved in the state.”
Although the status bar for the plan is to maintain at least 20 psi water pressure in the service area, Clouse said it’s right on the line for a boil water advisory. water, and SAWS aims to maintain at least 25 psi in an emergency.
The utility previously ignored a 2015 recommendation from outside disaster planning experts urging SAWS to purchase generators. At the time, Clouse said, the utility considered it unnecessary, given the reliability of CPS Energy.
But forced power outages during the February 2021 freeze ended up affecting SAWS pumping stations as well, which in turn cut off water to many customers.
“What we learned in (Winter Storm) Uri is that there are outside influences beyond the control of CPS or SAWS that produce this risk. Once we realized we had that risk, we knew we had to move forward,” Clouse said.
For CPS Energy, being able to run the generators would give them about 30 megawatts when needed, enough electricity to power 6,000 homes. Jonathan Tijerina, vice president of risk and business development, said it wouldn’t be very often, probably an average of around 150 hours a year.
“This is not a 24/7 baseload energy type solution. These are designed to meet short to medium term needs, but have the capability to operate long-term in the event of a resiliency-type failure,” Tijerina said.
The SAWS and CPS Energy boards of directors have both passed resolutions approving the deal in consecutive unanimous votes.
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