There’s more than one way to do it

Really interesting story about the different approaches being taken by Austin and San Antonio to draw clean energy jobs to their towns. While Austin has taken the traditional route of offering various types of incentives to help create a market for clean energy there, San Antonio has leveraged its ownership of its utility company to great effect.

While Austin has long worked to create a market to attract clean energy companies, San Antonio’s leadership is now using CPS Energy’s purchasing power to demand jobs as a condition of doing business with the utility.

If it can become a clean energy hub, the city might be able to lure hundreds — if not thousands — of new jobs, San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro says.

“San Antonio can be for the new energy economy what Silicon Valley is to software and what Boston is to biotech,” Castro said in June as he announced that five energy-related companies plan to relocate a couple of hundred jobs to San Antonio.

Whether hype or hope, San Antonio’s muscle-flexing has lit a debate among Austin’s clean tech advocates about whether Austin Energy is in danger of losing its leadership role in clean technology and whether the city-owned utility could do more to attract jobs.

When it comes to leveraging a utility into a job creator, “San Antonio is capturing the value of a community owning an electric utility,” said Mike Sloan, a renewable energy consultant and founder of the advocacy group Solar Austin. “In Austin, we’ve talked about it, but we haven’t really done it.”


CPS Energy has 717,000 electricity customers, second only to Los Angeles. Austin Energy, by comparison, has 411,000 customers.

Accessing San Antonio’s large customer base whets the appetites of companies.

In June, Castro announced five companies agreeing to relocate their headquarters or parts of their operations to San Antonio. They range from a solar developer to a truck assembly firm to a lighting company.

Jack Roberts is the CEO of Consert Inc., a developer of software that allows homeowners to manage their energy conservation through their home computers. Customers save money, and utilities have to build fewer generators.

Roberts is moving his Raleigh, N.C.-based company to San Antonio with 50 jobs by the beginning of next year and said he expects to hire hundreds more as it expands.

He came without tax breaks or cash incentives.

“People want to know what the city, county and the state gave us. Zero,” Roberts said. “It’s all about a business opportunity and a fabulous chance to demonstrate what we can do.”

Remember, CPS is a publicly-owned utility, meaning that the San Antonio market (Austin, too) was not deregulated like much of the rest of the state. Not that any of this will stop Rick Perry from claiming the credit for the jobs that are being created as a result of this, of course. There’s a clear parallel here to the longtime push to allow Medicare to use its bulk purchasing power to negotiate lower drug prices from pharmaceutical companies. Fortunately for the people of San Antonio, there was nothing stopping them from taking this approach. Austin’s more traditional approach has been very successful for them as well, and as the story notes there are limitations to what San Antonio can do. The point is that they have a valuable asset in their public utility, and they’re using it for all they can. It’s going to be very interesting to watch how this all plays out.

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