As part of a personnel shakeup during a period of intense pressure for CPS Energy, the utility is promoting internally to fill roles left by the resignations of other high-ranking staff members.
CPS Energy on Thursday announced the appointment of Shanna Ramirez as CPS Energy’s interim chief legal and ethics officer, general counsel, and board secretary, replacing Carolyn Shellman, whose last day is June 16. Shellman’s planned departure came to light earlier this month, along with the resignation of two other top CPS Energy attorneys, Abigail Ottmers and Zandra Pulis.
Shellman, Ottmers, and Pulis have not responded to an emailed requests for comment on their resignations, which come as CPS Energy faces challenges on multiple front. These include an estimated $1 billion in energy costs related to Winter Storm Uri in February, a spike in past-due accounts related to the coronavirus pandemic, a looming rate increase that could come later this year, and a first-ever committee set to publicly scrutinize its inner workings.
Paula Gold-Williams, the CEO who herself rose through the utility’s top ranks since joining as controller in 2004, would not say when questioned by reporters Thursday why three of CPS Energy’s top attorneys resigned.
“They have their own personal reasons for their resignation,” Gold-Williams said.
Prior to her promotion, Ramirez served as a vice president and chief integrated security officer in charge of physical and cyber security, among other responsibilities. She joined CPS Energy in 2015 after working as a San Antonio-based lawyer for Haynes and Boone, an international corporate law firm, and a former top attorney and deputy general counsel for Taco Cabana parent company Fiesta Restaurant Group.
Ramirez, whose first day in her new job was Thursday, told reporters she has a “great deal of respect for the attorneys that are leaving and for the attorneys that have stayed.”
“One of the things I think that sets me up for success here is that I’ve been in the legal department here for the first couple of years that I was here and developed great working relationships with those attorneys,” Ramirez said. “And I have a great relationship with the attorneys all across the San Antonio community. I’ve been practicing here my entire career.”
To fill the slots left by Pulis and Ottmers, Ramirez is promoting three current staff members: Devi Kumar-Nambiar, Luis Garcia, and Kip Giles.
Gold-Williams said “at least 50%” of Ramirez’s workload will be supervising the lawsuits CPS Energy filed against the Texas grid operator and multiple natural gas suppliers. The utility is hoping to reduce the approximately $700 million owed for natural gas and $300 million for wholesale electricity it bought at prices that skyrocketed during the February disaster.
The electricity charges are a result of high demand as several CPS Energy’s power plants went offline or reduced their output during the single-digit weather. Utilities across the state struggled to obtain adequate gas supplies as heating demand spiked and cold weather and power outages crippled Texas’ natural gas system.
CPS Energy expects to spend a total of $10 million this year on outside lawyers in the lawsuits, Gold-Williams said Thursday.
Gold-Williams confirmed Thursday that the strategy is to spend that $10 million in the hope that the utility will save hundreds of millions of dollars if it can prevail in its lawsuits or force favorable settlements from energy companies. Attorneys with the law firms Dentons U.S.; Chasnoff, Mungia, Valkenaar, Pepping, & Stribling; and Scott Douglass & McConnico are representing the utility.
“It’s an investment, right?” Gold-Williams said of the litigation. “You make a $10 investment and you save yourself $100,000. That’s what we’re doing here.”
On Thursday, Gold-Williams also announced the promotion of Fred Bonewell to chief operating officer, filling the position left by Cris Eugster, who left CPS Energy in February for a CEO job with a nationwide power producer. Bonewell had been the utility’s chief security, safety, and gas solutions officer and previously worked for electricity and natural gas providers in Kentucky, Florida, and Italy before joining CPS Energy in 2015.
Bonewell said Thursday that “every single aspect of my career has led me up to this.”
“I’ve had the fortunate opportunity to be mentored by some of the best operators in the world,” he said. “So I feel very ready for this.”
Following Eugster’s departure, CPS Energy split Eugster’s former operations department into two divisions: power, sustainability, and business development, run by Frank Almaraz, a former chief administrative officer, and grid optimization and resiliency, run by Paul Barham, a former senior vice president. Both will now report to Bonewell, Gold-Williams said.
“One of the issues we have is we have so many talented people and we only have so many roles,” Gold-Williams said Thursday. “Our bench is very deep.”
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