More than 100 people gathered at Our Lady of the Lake University’s Providence Hall Wednesday morning to hear leaders in San Antonio’s growing New Energy Economy (NEE) celebrate innovation, reinvention and the future of the renewable energy business in Texas.
The location of the venue in San Antonio’s District 5 was deliberate given that the utility’s iconic Mission Road Power Plant will soon be reborn in that district at 200 Mission Road as the Energy Partners Innovation Center, or EPIcenter.
Thanks to $15 million in seed money provided by New Energy Economy partners OCI Solar Power, Silver Spring Networks, and Landis+Gyr, the decommissioned power plant adjacent to Roosevelt Park on the east bank of the San Antonio River Mission Reach will soon find new life as a center for education, collaboration, economic development and job creation devoted to new energy technologies.
The rebirth of the five-acre-plus property will also stimulate the surrounding community.
“When the concept was presented to me, I was brought to tears at what it would do for the neighborhood,” said District 5 City Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales, addressing the crowd of media, elected officials, CPS Energy staff and new energy professionals from around the globe.
Long a glimmer in the eye of CPS Energy CEO Doyle N. Beneby, the EPIcenter embodies the essence of the New Energy Economy: leveraging public buying power for both the benefit of the community and the private sector through job creation, education and innovation–all while diversifying the utility’s energy portfolio with renewables. “We all along wanted to make a difference in our community and it’s extremely gratifying to see this project begin to come to life,” said Beneby.
The morning kicked off with a lively discussion of Texas’ role in the burgeoning renewables business. Texas Tribune CEO and Editor-in-Chief Evan Smith facilitated a discussion between Lynn Abramson, Senior Associate Clean Energy, at The Pew Charitable Trusts, Andrew Oh, VP of Global Solar for OCI Solar Power, and CPS Energy Chief Generation and Strategy Officer Cris Eugster.
“Progressive utilities like CPS Energy are responding to positive feedback from customers on renewables,” Abramson told the crowd.
Oh, who traveled from Seoul, Korea, to attend the event, mentioned that the partnership with CPS Energy has been so successful that OCI Solar Power is working to replicate the NEE public-private partnership model elsewhere in the world. To date, OCI Solar Power has completed five of seven solar farms and brought solar supply manufacturing to San Antonio with the establishment of Mission Solar Energy and Sun Action Trackers under its NEE agreement with CPS Energy.
In a later session, CPS Energy’s Senior Vice President of Enterprise Support & Chief Information Officer Gregory Sarich led a conversation about the changing electricity consumer with panelists David Helliwell, Vice President of Utility Solutions at EnerNOC, Jake Levine, Chief of Staff for OPower, and Raj Vaswani, Chief Technology Officer at Silver Spring Networks. Silver Spring Networks and Landis+Gyr have both established a presence in San Antonio as part of the NEE initiative to bring the Smart Grid to the Alamo City.
Vaswani lauded CPS Energy’s embrace of the changing utility landscape and disruptive technologies. “Fighting these things won’t work,” he said.
Finally, Beneby took the dais and described the long road to the EPIcenter. He thanked the CPS Energy team, the NEE partners and the community. “The concept of the New Energy Economy and the EPIcenter leverage our push to renewables with commerce, education and community,” he said.
Plans for the EPIcenter continue to evolve. Next steps include the establishment of a 501C-3, which is in process. A Board of Directors will be installed and an executive director hired. The first phase of development is targeted for completion in 2018.