SAN ANTONIO – On Wednesday, Abengoa SA's American bioenergy unit filed for bankruptcy protection, listing $10 billion in liabilities. Abengoa SA has a March 28 deadline to restructure its debt in Spain to avoid filing bankruptcy. Warning signs District 8 Councilman Ron Nirenberg feels San Antonio Water System officials aren't heeding.
"My biggest concern is that we have a healthy partner for which to do business and that San Antonio taxpayers are protected," Nirenberg said outside of City Hall on Thursday. "That was the No. 1 condition in getting involved in a high-risk water security project."
In an email statement to KSAT, a San Antonio Water System spokesperson wrote, "This newest development won’t affect the project."
Abengoa Vista Ridge, LLC, a separate entity of Abengoa SA, agreed to a contract with SAWS in 2014 to design and build the 142-mile pipeline from Bexar to Burleson County by 2020. Earlier this month, a Vista Ridge representative told the SAWS board that they are seeking outside investors to pay their share of the project.
"We need to understand why when we say SAWS ratepayers are in fact protected, when we see these things happening we need to explain why," he said. "What we've also been told by SAWS is that Abengoa is essentially doubling down on San Antonio, unloading other assets as the ship takes on more water."
Nirenberg has asked for, and net yet received, an independent legal review of the 720-page contract between SAWS and Abengoa Vista Ridge, LLC to ensure that ratepayers will not be on the hook for any construction costs. Through the deal SAWS ratepayers would pay nearly $3.4 billion for the water used between 2020 and 2050. Last November the SAWS board approved a five-year rate increase that would see the average customer bill increase from about $55 a month in 2016 to $78 in 2020.
"We want to achieve long-term water security in San Antonio but only under the condition that ratepayers are protected," he said.
A clause in the contract does allow SAWS to take over the project, which has a $844 million price tag.