The City of San Antonio

With development achieved through sustainability, linked with the diverse history and culture, as well as the dining, shopping, art, entertainment, many activity opportunities for families and young professionals, San Antonio is not only a terrific place to work, but a very nice place to live too. 

Rapidly emerging as a national model the City of San Antonio has developed a reputation of how to develop programs, build collaborations, and effectively enforce solutions that result in beneficial changes in terms of conservation of energy, improved air and water quality, and substantial cost savings that bolster its economic stability, and not only for the long term, but here and now.
Under his direction, Mayor Julián Castro says San Antonio “has a long, proactive history of pursuing sustainable development” which he credits to beginning some 15+ years ago with the leadership of former Mayor Howard Peak. At that time, San Antonio voters approved a 1/8-cent sales tax to purchase and preserve property over the recharge zone of the city’s primary source of drinking water, known as the Edwards Aquifer. Since that time, voters have re-authorized the sales tax twice, effectively preserving some 20,000 acres of sensitive land. In 2009, another initiative known as the Mission Verde Plan was spurred to being through the leadership of Mayor Phil Hardberger. Castro says with “Mission Verde’s core tenets of advanced energy infrastructure, clean technology development, green jobs, sustainable buildings, integrated transportation and land use, the City began positioning itself to be a leader in sustainable economic development.”
In 2009 upon Castro’s election, he dedicated his administration to setting sustainability efforts into action under the protection of a community-wide visioning effort called SA2020. As a board member of San Antonio’s municipal-owned utility company, Castro organized a ten-year, CPS Energy, $50 million agreement between the utility and the University of Texas at San Antonio to place the community as a national leader in green technology research. “The creation of the Texas Sustainable Energy Research Institute at UTSA is a game-changing partnership that will help the utility invest money wisely at a time when utilities across the country are working to implement sustainable technologies,” says Castro. “In addition, CPS Energy, in partnership with the City, has leveraged its large customer base to create hundreds of green energy jobs while expanding its green energy portfolio.”
What mainly sets San Antonio apart from other communities Castro says is, “the multi-pronged, multi-agency approach to moving the needle when it comes to sustainability.” Through SA2020, he says the entire community is accepting the push for greener, more viable practices.
CPS Energy presently, not only ranks #1 in wind-energy capacity among municipally owned utilities, but also number 1 in Texas for the amount of solar-generated electricity under contract.
Benefitting Business & Residents Alike
Mary Hammer is the Interim Director of San Antonio’s Office of Sustainability. She provides numerous examples of enacted measures which have already proven to offer benefits to residents of the community as well as operating businesses.
“For example, through the implementation of a weatherization program, energy improvements were provided to more than 3,000 low-income households, an initiative that improved the homes of families in need, saving them on average $600 per year while also teaching them how to conserve energy within their home.
We made many upgrades that were very straightforward like, sealing up air leaks, replacing standard incandescent bulbs with energy efficient compact fluorescent models, blowing insulation into the attic and walls, upgrading HVAC systems, applying tinted film to windows, and replacing outdated inefficient appliances. These modifications when added together can lead to big savings on utility costs. In addition to saving energy, the weatherization program created nearly 150 jobs, improved the safety of San Antonio homes, and helped protect the environment; it is a real win-win.”
Going a step further to support businesses San Antonio provided the retrofits, ultimately granting more than 700 separate enterprises the benefits of cost savings. The program included a financing system which allowed businesses to secure a loan to make the upgrades, which could then be paid back through the savings they achieved on utility costs. Essentially, they didn’t have to spend any more than they already were on utility bills.
These efforts have benefitted business overall through the creation of new jobs, and new opportunities for existing business. For instance, San Antonio’s M&M Weatherization, a long-respected provider of energy efficiency remodeling services, carried out a significant amount of work through the weatherization initiatives, allowing the company to experience growth. Another company known as Premier Window Tinting provided many of the services involving window applications, which aided their business. There are many other cases of companies which are benefitting today through the focus on sustainability.
The City of San Antonio has led by example in all of these efforts. Through the Energy Efficiency Conservation Block Grant and the Better Buildings Grant, both awarded by the Department of Energy the City was able to invest more than $5 million into upgrading city facilities and historic structures to develop lighting and HVAC systems. Last year, that project helped save 8,200,000 KWh of energy and 6,500 CCF of natural gas, or a savings of more than $650,000 in annual avoided energy costs. The City uses its in-house expertise to measure the energy savings over time. They are then able to employ an innovative funding mechanism to capture the savings and reinvest them in a fund that is used to finance future energy-saving upgrades.
The office of Sustainability Contract Manager Clint McKenzie says one of the challenges San Antonio had to overcome was educating people on how sustainability works. “Teaching people to do things differently is always a challenge,” says McKenzie. In this case, San Antonio was helped through the creation on an online, do-it-yourself auditing tool through the municipal utility, CPS Energy. It allowed those who participated to answer a few questions, and then it produced a report of the money they could save by making changes from as simple switching out bulbs to replacing inefficient air conditioning systems. That online audit has now been performed by some 13,000 people throughout the community. “Money really does talk,’’ McKenzie states. The auditing tools helps show them how to make improvements that can help save them money, and that’s a great way to introduce them to change.
Hammer and McKenzie both credit City leadership and support of the municipal utility company, CPS Energy, as pivotal to the success that has been achieved so far. They also credit grants and support provided by the Department of Energy.
Many Transportation Triumphs
San Antonio, the nation’s seventh largest city, covers a very large geographic area, and people do like to drive. Other sustainable measures have involved changes in the approach to moving from here to there.
About four years ago, San Antonio constructed the first modern-day bike share system in Texas which has grown rapidly. Mayor Castro says that additional investments in the City’s 242 miles of bike routes (and more than 100 miles of trails) helped secure Bicycling Magazine’s recognition of San Antonio to its list of Top 50 bike-friendly cities in America.
Mary Hammer says, the bike program not only helps address concerns about alternative transportation, but also health and wellness, another one of the Mayor’s priorities. San Antonio has already built some 30 bicycling stations around the city, and is expected to roll out another dozen by the end of the year. Beyond offering means to get around in a healthy way, the program has helped reduce pollutants arising from automotive exhaust. This program, in conjunction with other alternative transportation initiatives, has reduced miles, which would have otherwise been driven by cars, in excess of 20 million miles.
Focusing on alternative transportation, San Antonio has also simplified opportunities for increased usage of electric cars. This has included a partnership with Hertz which provides residents the opportunity to utilize an all-electric vehicle while using the downtown-based program.
The city also offers free downtown parking for hybrid and electric vehicles and through the partnership with CPS Energy more than 130 publically accessible electric vehicle charging stations can be found throughout the city.
Bill Barker the project leader for transportation initiatives, provides examples of several developments that further differentiate the City’s sustainability efforts. One case involves a partnership with Austin Energy to construct an infrastructure for electric fueling stations along the Interstate 35 corridor between Austin and San Antonio, basically allowing anyone to have access to recharging for travel purposes. He says the biggest challenge is creating a system that allows for drivers to fuel their vehicle and pay for it through a mechanism that sends the bill to the appropriate energy provider, or have it added to the respective person’s monthly utility bill. Improving the business model is much more challenging than installing the electrical pump.
The City has made use of 600 cleaner fuel vehicles, including propane, electric, compressed natural gas, and hybrid technologies. A Green Fleet Acquisition Policy calls for City fleet purchases to use a total cost of ownership approach including environmental impacts in assessing which vehicles to acquire. Additionally the City is also testing all-electric trucks manufactured by Boulder Electric Vehicle. San Antonio will also soon be one of the few cities in America to have an all electrical-powered bus for their public transportation system.
The dependence on such vehicles helps diminish what Barker says are key issues of the future: air and water quality as well as water shortage as a result of climate change. Atmospheric conditions have threatened to designate the area as a non-attainment zone, a reflection of substandard air quality that could possibly lead to reduced availability of federal funds, and increased costs for fuel directly hitting consumers, and businesses, in the pocketbook. Simply reducing carbon emissions from car exhaust will go a long way on that front. On the water side of the equation, Barker says it takes five gallons of water to produce one gallon of gas. For an area that has experienced drought as a result of climate change, he notes that water is a precious commodity.
Valuable Community Collaborations
Providing costs savings that profit business, utility cost reductions for homeowners, improved modes of alternative transportation, all of it is a result of a team approach and readiness to work together which may be the major factor in what makes things a little different in San Antonio. The city has previously gained recognition as one of the most friendly-to-business cities in America, which may have played into its prominence as one of America’s best places to find a job. Factors, which have added to recent research that shows San Antonio is among the cities that are fastest recovering from the economic recession.
A valuable point not lost by San Antonio City Manager Sheryl Sculley who says, “The business culture in San Antonio is shaped by a strong and collaborative working relationship with the business community, the San Antonio Economic Development Foundation, local chambers of commerce, as well as other economic development entities in the city. As a result of this close collaboration, San Antonio is able to attract new businesses and help existing ones grow which translates into investments, jobs, and many opportunities for the community.”
City Manager Sculley says that the partnerships and support with the business community is working to help the entire community reach the sustainability goals and visions of SA2020.
She also says that the development achieved through sustainability, when linked with the diverse history and culture, as well as the dining, shopping, art, entertainment, many activity opportunities for families and young professionals, not only make San Antonio a terrific place to work, but a very nice place to live too.

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