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San Antonio City Council unanimously approved another term for CPS Energy Chair John Steen, whom council members commended for his calm demeanor and listening skills.

“I feel like he has been a very level, mild force on the CPS Energy board,” Councilman John Courage (D9) said of the attorney, investor, and former Texas secretary of state who represents the northeast quadrant of the utility’s service area.

Council members praised the utility’s accomplishments during Steen’s first term, which began Feb. 18, 2016. These include closing its oldest coal units in 2018, offering public comment periods at its board meetings, posting meeting materials online, and streaming meetings live on its website.

But Steen’s confirmation comes at a tense moment for the utility, which is facing increased public scrutiny amid the coronavirus pandemic and a politically fraught transition to cleaner energy sources. On Thursday, Steen told council members he believes in “service to his community” and is willing to put in the “long hours and a lot of effort” the position requires.

“I do hear the voices in our community that are asking for more transparency and more accountability and more public participation,” Steen said. “We’ve made significant strides in these areas in the years I’ve been on the board, and we’re going to continue to do that.”

Steen’s confirmation came a day after climate activists ended their charter amendment petition campaign to force the utility to abandon fossil fuels by 2040, among other measures. Activists gathered roughly 14,000 petitions, 6,000 short of the threshold they needed. Many are furious about CPS Energy’s recent move in a Travis County to strengthen its legal position against them.

“It would be a slap in the face to the thousands of people who signed onto a petition acknowledging CPS [Energy] needs a major overhaul, to reappoint a member of the board who slipped the rug out from under us,” Isabella Briseño, an organizer with progressive youth group Texas Rising, told council members.

Councilman Manny Pelaez (D8) had a blunt response for climate activists.

“You guys didn’t meet the signature threshold,” Pelaez said during the meeting. “It rings hollow that you think you were denied something. You didn’t get enough signatures.”

But activists aren’t the only ones calling for the utility to be “more forthcoming,” as Courage put it.

Councilwoman Ana Sandoval (D7) reminded Steen during the meeting that she and others have been asking the utility for years for specifics on how transitioning to a fossil fuel-free power supply over the coming decades would affect customers’ bills.

“Unfortunately, we were not able to make progress in bringing forth that information,” Sandoval said. “And to date, we haven’t seen anything like that provided by CPS [Energy]. How soon can we get that?”

Steen said the utility’s “board is going to begin to hear more of that information” at its next meeting on Jan. 25.

“I think we’re well on our way to complying with that [request],” Steen said.

Steen’s second and final term will end in January 2026.

CPS Energy is a financial supporter of the San Antonio Report. For a full list of business members, click here.

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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.