Monday marked Nora Chavez’s last day as presiding chair of CPS Energy’s board of trustees and initiated a shuffling of board leadership for the nation’s largest publicly owned gas and electric utility.
Former Vice Chair Ed Kelley, a San Antonio native who retired as president and CEO of USAA Real Estate in 2005, was unanimously elected by the board to take over as chair and Trustee Derrick Howard, executive director of Freeman Coliseum, will now serve as vice chair.
As vice chair, Kelley was already actively involved in the search process to find a new CEO. The board’s CEO search committee is made up of the chair and vice chair and is still deeply engrossed in compensation negotiations with an un-named candidate.
(Read more: “CPS Energy Board Narrows Focus to One CEO Candidate.”)
Chavez moved outside of CPS Energy’s northeast service quadrant in 2015, initiating the process to find a replacement trustee and new board chair. The board received 36 applications for the trustee position and interviewed three total before nominating former Texas Secretary of State (2012-2014) John Steen on Monday.
City Council will vote on Steen’s selection on Thursday, Feb. 18. All appointments and recommendations on Monday were unanimously approved by the board.
“I’m honored to have been selected, and I look forward to the opportunity to learn more about the electric and gas industry,” stated Steen in a news release. He was not present during Monday’s meeting. “I take public service seriously, and I believe that my previous experience has prepared me well to represent the loyal customers of CPS Energy.”
Steen, a native San Antonian and attorney, graduated from Princeton University and received his juris doctorate from University of Texas Law School. He was a commissioner of the Texas Department of Public Safety (2008-2012) and is a member of several boards and organizations including Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, Texas Department of Public Safety Foundation, San Antonio Academy, and San Antonio Livestock Exposition Inc.
“John is and has always been heavily involved in our local community,” Kelly stated. “He’s worked to improve lives through education, community development, public safety, housing and a variety of other areas. I have no doubt he will bring this same passion and commitment to the energy sector.”
Chavez, who has been chair since February 2015, was praised by CPS Energy executives and fellow trustees for her service over the past five years as a trustee, colleague, and friend.
“It seems like I just started and here we are five years later,” she said, offering her continued support if the board needs any guidance in the future. “I’ll miss putting in my two cents worth … I’m not going anywhere. This is my town, this is my city.”
As managing director of Texas Public Finance group for Stifel Nicolaus & Company, Inc, Chavez brought considerable financial expertise with her into the board room where the five-member board oversees business operations for the utility that generates more than $2 billion in revenues annually, about $300 million of which goes to the City of San Antonio.
“Nora has accomplished much during her tenure and will be missed,” Kelly stated. “The value and financial expertise she contributed to the board cannot be understated.”
The board recessed into executive session for more than an hour to discuss legal matters as well as the CEO candidate’s contract negotiations.
After executive session, the board also heard updates and action items from various departments and executives including Frank Almaraz, CPS Energy’s interim group executive vice president for Financial and Administrative Services.
Almaraz presented the board with the utility’s two-year projected budget, which does not include any rate increases. The board unanimously approved the more than $1.2 billion budgets for 2017 and 2018, which includes $17 million to improve customer service.
CPS Energy will increase its call center staff by 40% over the next two year, Almaraz said, as part of its “people, process, and technology” enhancements.
With fingers crossed, interim CEO Paula Gold-Williams announced that it had been more than 90 days since an injury had been recorded by CPS Energy employees.
“These numbers are coming out of a great attitude on safety,” she said. “(A result of) the tremendous effort of everyone in the room.”
David Jungman, CPS Energy director of Economic and Business Development gave an update on the utility’s New Energy Economy initiative. The goal to hit a $1.6 billion annual impact by 2020– via green jobs, manufacturing plants, and companies – is easily in reach, he said. CPS Energy calculates the local impact from the alternative energy economy has already reached $1.4 billion.
The recent NEE summit hosted by CPS Energy for local renewable energy partners demonstrated that local companies are starting to work together, he said.
For instance, PowerFin Partners, which operates CPS Energy’s rooftop hosting program, has been talking to local solar panel manufacturer Mission Solar about a possible partnership, Jungman said. “We can see that little ecosystem starting to evolve.”
*Top image: Outgoing CPS Energy Board Chair Nora Chavez receives a hug from her two-year-old grandson Noah. Photo by Scott Ball.