CPS Energy is exploring the financial effects of moving away from coal, but the utility delayed the release of a long-awaited report on the issue at the request of its longest-serving board member.
On Monday, utility officials announced its Flexible Path Resource Plan, which describes three possible scenarios for its two J.K. Spruce coal-fired plants: replace the older plant with cleaner technologies while operating the newer plant indefinitely; replace both plants with renewable energy sources and batteries; or replace the older plant with cleaner energy sources while converting the newer plant to natural gas.
The full report shows how each scenario could affect the annual energy bills for CPS Energy’s customers, President and CEO Paula Gold-Williams told reporters.
“You’ll be able to see what [a bill] looks like over a 25-year period with those scenarios,” Gold-Williams said.
Utility officials have long said they would deliver this information, which involves a detailed analysis of electricity markets and other financial matters. Many City Council members, climate activists, and others interested in CPS Energy’s future see this analysis as a missing piece in a years-long debate over whether San Antonio will fulfill its 2019 commitment to effectively abandon fossil fuels by 2050.
But at the utility’s board meeting later Monday, trustee Ed Kelley called for the report to be withheld from public view.
Kelley said he had received the report, which he described as “our playbook,” less than an hour before the meeting, adding that it contains “a tremendous amount of detailed information.”
“It would be like the Dallas Cowboys handing the other teams a copy of their playbook,” said Kelley, a former USAA Real Estate executive and CPS Energy chair who has served on the board since 2011. “I would like to see this report stamped ‘competitive information, personal, confidential, not to be released’ until I am confident and the board is confident this information is to be shared outside the company.”
Kelley added that it would be “fine with me” to share the report with City Council and City staff, “but I want to be sure that when they receive it, that they are tied to a confidentiality agreement.”
“I’ll be honest with you, if I were doing this in my business, before I sent it out, I would have each recipient sign a non-disclosure agreement,” Kelley said. “Because as I skim this, I don’t think we should be sharing that level of information with our competitors or with anybody else.”
While the utility has a local monopoly on its retail electric and natural gas customers, CPS Energy does compete with other private and public energy companies selling wholesale power on the Texas grid. It’s not clear what Kelley saw in the report that prompted his concerns. He did not respond to a Monday phone message seeking additional comment.
Other board members said the report should be made public. Mayor Ron Nirenberg, a CPS Energy trustee in his official capacity, pointed out that utility’s staff had even marked the document with the words “public information.”
“I would not be in favor at all of us creating some kind of non-disclosure based on this information here,” Nirenberg said. “I think there’s plenty of discussion we have under executive privilege, but this is not one of them.”
Trustee Willis Mackey also said he had been anticipating the report’s release for some time.
“I’ve been asking for this for two years,” Mackey said. “I am very pleased with everything I’ve read so far.”
After Kelley’s objections, the board took the discussion over whether to release the report into closed session, where they voted on the issue. Chief Legal Officer Carolyn Shellman didn’t reveal the results of the vote, saying only that trustees had voted on a “competitive matter” behind closed doors.
The meeting ended with no further discussion of the report. CPS Energy communications director Melissa Sorola said the utility would “hold on releasing the plan to give the board more time to review.”
“We’ll revisit this again at the February board meeting,” Sorola said.
The San Antonio Report has sought the financial analysis behind the Flexible Path since 2018, when the utility unveiled its plans for how its energy generation mix would change in the coming decades. The Flexible Path states that half of the utility’s energy capacity will come from wind and solar by 2040, though it would also continue operating its Spruce 2 coal unit, completed in 2010, until the end of its useful life, which stretches into the 2060s.
Trustee Janie Gonzalez, CEO of local IT firm WebHead and a board member since 2019, said in a phone interview that the report’s release in February gives board members time to absorb it and that the utility’s intent is not to withhold it from the public.
“It’s not about not having transparency with the public,” Gonzalez said. “This was a pretty large document, and we all felt it was important to just read it. … We’re going to be held accountable to it in some form or fashion, right?”
CPS Energy and Ed Kelley are financial supporters of the San Antonio Report. For a full list of business members, click here.