Last night, 13-year-old Mark Arthur Vargas Jr. earned the first round of applause at CPS Energy's ninth public meeting on nuclear power.
“I love San Antonio, and I'm pretty sure most of us love San Antonio,” he began.
“My friend's grandma died because she cleaned up harmful chemicals. You're going to have many workers. What are you going to do if someone gets sick? If they die, it will be CPS' fault — not their fault, because it's their job.”
Mike Kotara, the CPS vice president in charge of energy development, thanked Mark for caring enough to come out to the District 3 meeting, which drew more than 100 people.
He said nuclear power plants are the most monitored — and the industry the most regulated — in the world. And there has never been a fatality at a U.S. nuclear plant, he added.
That line, too, got applause.
And while those who spoke out against CPS' proposed nuclear power expansion outnumbered those who voiced support by almost 3-to-1, the applause went both ways for the rest of the evening, suggesting a faction of quiet support scattered among the opposition.
By the end of the evening, young Mark was impressed with CPS' commitment to wind and solar energy. But like many who stood up to speak against the municipally-owned utility's plan to expand its nuclear holdings, he remained unconvinced by officials' assertions that the benefits of nuclear outweighed the risks.
“We don't need it, and I hope Councilwoman (Jennifer) Ramos votes to oppose it,” he said.
Ramos, who sat in the front row at the Holy Name Activity Center listening to her constituents, acknowledged the magnitude of the decision before City Council and said she had yet to make up her own mind.
The council must decide in October whether to allow the utility to issue another $400 million in bonds to keep up its investment in the proposed expansion, which is estimated to cost $5.2 billion. CPS has said it would need to come to the council for 5 percent bill increases every other year for a decade to pay for the investment.
The utility has already spent $276 million on planning and engineering for the two new reactors, and it has said it would spend close to $1 billion by 2012, when construction is slated to begin.
CPS wants a 40 percent stake in the two planned reactors, the same percentage it holds in the existing two plants at the South Texas Project, in Bay City.
It recommends selling half the power generated in the form of long-term contracts, to make the project more affordable to the community.
Mayor Julián Castro has said he is more comfortable with a smaller investment, perhaps 20 percent, which he thinks would allow the utility to remain more flexible in the coming years as the cost for renewable energy continues to decline.
CPS will host a second meeting for residents of District 4 next Tuesday, requested by Councilman Philip Cortez after notification problems for the first meeting led to low turnout. Councilman John Clamp will host the final public meeting in District 10 on Sept. 24, just days before the CPS board of trustees votes on the issue.