A CPS Energy worker oversees a project at the corner of East Houston and Soledad.
A CPS Energy worker oversees a project at the corner of East Houston and Soledad. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

CPS Energy and the San Antonio Water System have stopped shutting off their customers’ service for unpaid bills as the city prepares for the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Officials from CPS Energy, the city’s municipal gas and utility provider, announced late Wednesday that they are suspending electric and gas disconnections “while our community bands together to find our path forward.”

The CPS Energy suspension went into effect Wednesday afternoon, according to Melissa Sorola, interim senior director of corporate communications. SAWS officials followed Thursday with their own suspension of shutoffs, said Gavino Ramos, SAWS’ vice-president of communications.

“We have enough of a financial cushion to partner with our customers and work it out together,” Sorola said. CPS Energy has previously stopped disconnecting people during the 2018 federal government shutdowns, along with periods of extreme temperature, and holidays, she said.

“We’ve seen cycles like this before, and we’re here to help our customers and community through this,” Sorola continued.

SAWS officials want to ensure that its customers have the water they need for sanitation and hygiene, Ramos said. Health officials are recommending hand washing as an effective ways to avoid contracting the virus.

“More than just your water provider, we want to be the neighbor you can rely on,” Ramos said. “We are here to help.”

Both utilities offer many customer-assistance programs, including options for elderly, low-income, and disabled residents.

So far, the only confirmed cases in San Antonio of COVID-19 have been among the hundreds of evacuees brought to Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland by federal health authorities. There are no known cases of COVID-19 among Bexar County residents.

Still, CPS Energy officials have said for weeks that they’ve been monitoring the virus’s global spread. At its City of the Future conference downtown in late February, utility staff was told to refrain from shaking hands to avoid spreading the virus.

“CPS Energy is working diligently to protect our customers and employees regarding the COVID-19 health event,” utility officials said in a Wednesday news release. “We continue to monitor this public health event as it evolves.”

SAWS also postponed its Spring Bloom event offering plant giveaways to promote drought-tolerant landscaping. The popular annual event was originally scheduled for Saturday.

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Brendan Gibbons

Brendan Gibbons is a former senior reporter at the San Antonio Report. He is an environmental journalist for Oil & Gas Watch.