In a split vote, the San Antonio City Council approved the extension of CPS Energy’s energy efficiency program on Thursday for another five years at roughly the same cost to customers that they’re paying now.

Council voted 7-3 to approve the “new STEP program” Thursday.

Dissent came from Councilwomen Phyllis Viagran (D3) and Adriana Rocha Garcia (D4), who said STEP has thus far mostly benefited residents outside of their Southside districts, and from Councilman Clayton Perry (D10), who said hitting pause on the program could be a way to lower customers’ monthly bills in the wake of CPS Energy’s recent rate increase.

Others on the council, however, noted that continuation of the program is crucial to meeting the goals of the SA Climate Ready Action & Adaptation Plan, which aims to make San Antonio carbon neutral by 2050.

“Texas broke its record demand for electricity last weekend; energy efficiency and curbing energy demand are smart and necessary investments at this time,” said Councilman Mario Bravo (D1). “I will continue to push CPS Energy to get this right.”

Originally launched as the Save for Tomorrow Energy Program, STEP has saved about 1,000 megawatts in demand since the program began in 2009 — far more than the original goal of saving 771 megawatts, and enough power, the utility says, to avoid building a new fossil fuel plant.

The program has been extended twice by the City of San Antonio, once in 2020 and again in 2021.

This latest extension, the name now tweaked slightly to the Sustainable Tomorrow Energy Plan, will differ slightly in a couple ways, officials have said.

Rooftop solar subsidies will be reduced and perhaps even phased out altogether, replaced by more community solar options.

More money will also go towards weatherizing multifamily units, in addition to single-family homes.

Weatherization will make up a bigger chunk of the program overall; almost one-third will help low-income customers make their homes more energy-efficient and reduce energy costs; that’s up from 16% in the old plan.

The overall goal of the program, however, remains the same: to reduce local energy demand through programs that allow customers to save energy and take advantage of greener options.

The new goal CPS Energy has set is to reduce demand by 410 megawatts at a cost of roughly $350 million by July 31, 2027. That equates to about $3.50 on a customer’s average monthly bill, which is roughly what customers already pay for the program. One megawatt is enough to power about 200 Texas homes on a hot summer day.

CPS Energy agreed Thursday to give council a formal evaluation of the program in 2025, the program’s third year, and again in 2026 to determine whether the program should continue beyond 2027. Annual and quarterly reports will also be given to city staff and council, said Rick Luna, CPS Energy’s director of technology and product innovation.

While the program’s funding has come from a fee on all CPS Energy’s customers’ bills, customers in the northern half of the city have cashed in on those rebates more often than customers on the South side, meaning those customers have been subsidizing benefits for more affluent customers, Rocha Garcia said, explaining her dissenting vote.

Nirenberg, speaking to her concerns, noted that the new program will be more equity-focused, given the increased funding for weatherization and community solar.

Following council’s vote, CPS Energy’s interim CEO and President Rudy Garza said the original plan was designed first and foremost to save megawatts. The new program, which begins Aug. 1, was designed with customer equity in mind, he assured councilmembers.

He acknowledged that the utility has work to do to make good on that promise.

“We know now we’ve got to do better,” he said. “We got to market the programs in a different way. We got to do outreach, door to door, to get to those folks.”

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Lindsey Carnett

Lindsey Carnett covers the environment, science and utilities for the San Antonio Report.