cps energy headquarters (illustration)

CPS Energy: A Utility in Transition

San Antonio’s City-owned electric and gas utility has shifted from a gas utility to one with sizable stakes in coal, nuclear, wind, and solar, delivering electricity to more than 900,000 areas residents.

It’s also our largest climate offender and generator of toxic materials released to the air, water, and land. But a CPS commitment to zeroing out its carbon emissions by 2050—and the pledged end of coal use by the utility by 2030—show a possible pathway to progress.

CPS Energy is a utility in transition. Internal commitments and culture, global market and climate demands, along with sustained community pressure, have all pressed the nation’s largest City-owned provider of electricity and natural gas into the shape it holds today. While electricity is generated primarily from a mix of coal, gas, and nuclear power, CPS bought early into wind power and is growing a not-significant solar footprint after a years-long slowdown.

Through its branded FlexPower Bundle effort launched in 2020, CPS plans to bring online 900 megawatts (MW) of additional solar, 500MW of “firming capacity” (originally billed as “gas” but modified to allow for the possible entry of more renewables at the request of San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg an ex oficio CPS board member), and 50MW of energy storage. (Read the original Request for Proposals here.) The first tranche of 300MW of solar was announced in May 2022.

Climate deadlines, rapid area population growth, and aging plants are all playing a role in generation decisions at CPS Energy. Image: CPS Energy

CPS Energy is also the operator of one of the nation’s youngest coal plants. The two-unit 1,400MW JK Spruce plant, likely slated for retirement by 2030, is the region’s largest climate offender. Meanwhile, thousands of megawatts of old gas units are aging out.

In spite of a moderate energy conservation program known as the Save for Tomorrow Energy Plan (STEP), explosive growth in the housing sector and heavy energy users from data centers (not to mention the menace of crypto mining being welcomed to Texas by our Republican leadership) have the utility’s leadership looking closely at a range of new and (hopefully) cleaner power sources, including geothermal, and evolving storage technologies, such as compressed air.

In 2022, San Antonio Councilmember Ana Sandoval led the development of a “resiliency fund” with the City’s share of the surcharge paid into the STEP program to tackle the impact of heat island, assist businesses in energy efficiency upgrades, and distribute community grants to groups tackling climate impacts at the neighborhood level. The effort followed unexpected utility revenues reaching the City flowing from one of our hottest summers on record.

CPS pays up to 14 percent of its year-end gross revenue to the City of San Antonio (for FY2023 that’s an estimated $388M), the majority of which historically has gone to police and fire services.

In January, CPS Energy’s board approved a resolution (PDF) to convert one of Spruce’s units to run on gas in 2027 and close the other unit in 2028. However, the amount of actual reductions of greenhouse gases (if any) will hinge on the gas industry cleaning up its act. Currently leak rates in the Permian basin are so high that a conversion using Permian gas could actually increase Spruce’s total emissions after a coal-to-gas conversion. Certification schemes being pursued and promoted by industry, meanwhile, for low-carbon gas are far from transparent or trusted.

Recall CPS Energy protest outside CPS Energy in 2021. Image: Greg Harman

Climate Action and Adaptation Plan

The CPS Energy Board of Trustees unanimously adopted the City of San Antonio’s Climate Action and Adaptation Plan in 2019, but it was only in February 2022 that it publicly agreed it is bound by the document’s interim greenhouse-gas reduction target of about 45 percent by 2030 and directed its Rate Advisory Committee members to chart a course to shutter Spruce by that same year. That recommendation from a deeply divided RAC urged not a sudden shift to more renewables but a bridge built on gas. CPS staff have suggested that the generation plan will enable them to hit the CAAP’s 2030 target, but will not allow them to reach the 2040 and 2050 goals without significant modification later.

CEO Rudy Garza served as the utility’s head “customer engagement officer” before being elevated to replace former CEO Paula Gold-Williams in 2021. Garza found the utility’s top seat in a period of conflict, months after power outages—lasting for days across much of the area—left hundreds of thousands of residents in freezing darkness during Winter Storm Uri, including hundreds of deaths across the state. A City of San Antonio committee blamed a combination of state and CPS failures for local outages.

Garza has overseen the rollout of a new color-coded energy conservation campaign. Highlighting the chaotic nature of the energy industry, Garza has begun to make his leadership claim via something called “Vision 2027 – An Evolving Utility.”

Paula Gold-Williams, the previous CEO, put her stamp on CPS with what she called the “Flexible Path” (hence FlexPower Bundle above). She resigned several months after Uri. Validating longstanding complaints from the local environmental community, analysts within the Rocky Mountain Institute found Gold-Williams had repeatedly misled the public about critical CPS Energy programs, as captured in the utility’s first-ever Resource Plan.

2019 Data show CPS Energy—and the JK Spruce coal plant particularly—is a major climate offender. See: “San Antonio’s Top Climate Offenders.”
CPS Energy leads all other local sources for toxic emissions. See: “San Antonio’s Top Toxic Polluters.”

Recall CPS

In 2020, a petition initiative to force CPS Energy to close its coal plant and make the utility more responsive to community came up shy of the needed signatures to put the matter on the ballot. CPS Energy has spent more than $1M seeking to undermine the effort in court, arguing people do not have a right to modify its charter.

As Deceleration has reported previously:

“In its formative documents, CPS Energy was given broad authority over the day-to-day running of the business. But the authority is not absolute. Rate setting is one of two understood checks Council has over CPS Energy. The other is in the appointment/rejection of CPS Board members. The struggle over the people’s right to manage our utility hit a flash point after the launch of the Recall CPS initiative petition in late 2020. In theory, a successful Recall would have forced many fundamental reforms, including closing the City’s last remaining coal plant by 2030 and making City Council the effective Board of Trustees.

“But within weeks of the petition’s launch, CPS’s attorneys filed legal papers to shore up the utility’s power—both against the Recall effort and any future effort of its kind. They didn’t just want a judge to dismiss the Recall CPS effort because it allegedly infringed upon the rights of the finance house who had floated the utility billions in credit. They sought a ‘permanent injunction’ on any similar actions in the future.”

CPS Energy Board of Trustees

CPS Energy’s Board of Trustees is comprised of five members, four of whom are drawn from quadrants of Bexar County, with the sitting mayor of San Antonio serving by dint of their elected position. They hold public meetings the last Monday of each month.

Current members include:

  • Willis Mackey, consultant and retired superintendent of Judson ISD
  • Janie Martinez Gonzalez, president and CEO of a cybersecurity firm
  • Francine Sanders Romero, chair of UTSA’s public administration department
  • John Steen, a local attorney and former Texas Secretary of State
  • Ron Nirenberg, mayor of San Antonio

Disconnections, Debt, and Bill Assistance

Under past CEO Paula Gold-Williams forced disconnections for nonpayment spiked to nearly 100,000 accounts in 2018. After COVID-19 struck, such disconnections were put on hold. They returned in 2022 as the utility’s credit rating started to take a hit and the number of delinquent accounts reached a quarter of all CPS accounts, representing more than $200M owed at the end of 2022.

For assistance getting current with your CPS Energy bill, see their list of options, which includes a disabled citizen’s fund. However, there is no guarantee to uninterrupted power, even if you are dependent on electric service for life-support, as the family of Ralph Garcia has learned the hard way.

Reconnection requests can be made by calling:

  • Residential Customers – 1-877-257-1172
  • Commercial Customers – 1-855-290-7615

You may also donate money to families in need via their Energy Angels program.

Understanding CPS Energy

Deceleration’s coverage of CPS Energy over the years.

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