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San Antonio Utility Fuels Expansion at Area Installations

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  • February 14, 2011
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San Antonio — Over $3 billion in construction at three San Antonio military installations. The arrival of almost 50,000 medic students each year at Fort Sam Houston. The establishment of the San Antonio Military Medical Center at Fort Sam and Lackland Air Force Base. The creation of Joint Base San Antonio, the military’s largest installation by population.

Unless you were confined to a deep bunker at an undisclosed location for the past six years, it would have been difficult to miss the news that BRAC 2005 is transforming San Antonio into DOD’s principal center for medical training, bringing a projected $15 billion annual economic impact. What the headlines don’t mention is the military’s partnership with CPS Energy, the area’s municipally owned utility that is supporting the growth through investments to ensure the area’s bases have a reliable source of energy.

CPS provides electricity to all three of the installations that make up Joint Base San Antonio — Lackland and Randolph Air Force bases, and Fort Sam Houston (including Camp Bullis). In addition, the firm provides natural gas to Fort Sam and Lackland, and in 2003, CPS acquired the electric and natural gas infrastructure at Fort Sam and Bullis.

It’s really not a surprise to learn that DOD is the utility’s largest customer, accounting for between $50 million and $60 million in revenue annually. “They are critical to sustaining our growth,” said Army Col. Robert Bridgford, the deputy commander of the joint base.

To date the utility has invested $12 million to support the military’s growth in San Antonio. The largest piece of the effort was a new substation needed to accommodate increased energy consumption at Fort Sam, including Brooke Army Medical Center and the Center for the Intrepid. CPS plans to invest an additional $7 million at Lackland and Bullis.

New missions at the joint base are projected to account for an 18-megawatt rise in demand for electricity, said Jeffrey Tuttle, vice president of CPS’s gas business unit.

CPS is the nation’s largest municipally owned utility providing both electric and natural gas service. It serves 707,000 electric customers and 322,000 natural gas customers in San Antonio and the surrounding area.

Joint Effort to Aid Joint Base

CPS is working closely with Joint Base San Antonio to reduce its use of energy and increase its reliance on renewable sources. The utility is one of the nation’s largest users of renewable energy — it satisfies more than 10 percent of its load through renewable sources. Much of that is provided through wind energy; of CPS’s 900 megawatts of renewable generation capacity, 860 megawatts comes from wind.

“We’re all looking at how to reduce our carbon footprint,” said Bridgford, who also is the vice commander of the 502nd Air Base Wing located at Fort Sam. Solar and wind power are the major sources under consideration for supplying the joint base. One project under review is a solar farm to support Lackland, said Tuttle.

CPS is a partner in one of the newest initiatives launched to help the military meet its energy goals, the Joint Base San Antonio Sustainable Energy Innovation Center. The innovation center is intended to accelerate the development of new technologies and other approaches needed to cut the joint base’s use of fossil fuels. The center will act as a clearinghouse for new solutions and maintain a database of “lessons learned” from individual projects, Tuttle said.

Other partners in the center, besides San Antonio’s office of military affairs and the joint base, include the Defense Transformation Institute, Texas A&M and the University of Texas-San Antonio.

CPS also has focused on conservation throughout San Antonio and at the joint base. The utility is spending $800 million in incentives as part of its Save for Tomorrow Energy Plan to eliminate 771 megawatts — equivalent to one power plant — in demand by 2020.  The utility has awarded almost $1.2 million in rebates to the joint base under the program.

A massive lighting retrofit at Lackland — involving 130 buildings and more than 50,000 lights — resulted in a $940,000 rebate for the joint base and a 2 megawatt cut in energy use. The effort is projected to save the installation $1.6 million annually.

The Air Force, which is responsible for providing facility support services at the joint base’s three installations, is aiming to reduce energy consumption by 3 percent per year through 2015, Bridgford said.

The joint base and CPS each consider the other a valuable partner. CPS sees its role as ensuring a reliable supply of “cost-competitive, high-quality” power, Tuttle said. The utility’s ability to hold up its end of the bargain has been critical in helping San Antonio continue to attract missions to the city’s bases.

“That helps the military and San Antonio … It’s a mutual, symbiotic relationship,” he said.

To hear more about the Joint Base San Antonio Sustainable Energy Innovation Center, come to the ADC 2011 Winter Forum concurrent session on Tuesday, Feb. 15, at 2:15 p.m. For more information about CPS, the Signature Event sponsor of the Winter Forum, visit the utility’s website.

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