CPS Energy officials are asking to continue their existing energy efficiency programs for another year while they work to set up the next 10 years of efforts to get customers to reduce their usage.

At the municipally owned electric and gas utility’s January meeting Tuesday, CPS Energy’s board voted to extend over one year its existing Save For Tomorrow Energy Plan (STEP) by $70 million, an amount that would let them cut demand by 75 megawatts, they said. One megawatt can power around 200 homes on a hot summer day. 

CPS Energy officials consider STEP one of their key accomplishments of the last decade. The decade-old program set out to spend $849 million to reduce demand by 771 megawatts by 2020. CPS Energy met the goal in August, ahead of schedule and 15 percent under budget at around $723 million. 

“We’ve accomplished that with more energy savings with fewer dollars than expected,” said Rick Luna, CPS Energy’s interim director of product and technology innovation. “Which means that we got a higher return on our investment per dollar spent on the program.” 

STEP efforts cost residential customers $3 to $5 per month, depending on the year. If approved by City Council, the one-year extension would make up $3.43 per month of an average residential user’s bill. 

At the meeting, CPS Energy President and CEO Paula Gold-Williams called energy efficiency a “fifth fuel,” along with natural gas, nuclear, coal, and renewables, in helping the utility meet their customers’ demand.

In the utility’s 2019 fiscal year alone, STEP cut demand by 1.4 million megawatt-hours, enough power to run 104,000 homes, according to a November analysis by consultant ICF. Over the program’s entire life, it’s saved 6.3 million megawatt-hours. 

That’s equated to keeping 3.3 million tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, according to ICF. That’s equivalent to the carbon dioxide captured by 3.6 million acres of American forest, the ICF report states. 

Extending the program another year will allow CPS Energy to continue offering solar incentives, rebates for energy efficient appliances, payments for large customers able to reduce their usage at crucial times, and other energy-reducing initiatives.

Over the next 10 years, CPS Energy executives say extending STEP by another $700 million could allow them to further reduce demand by 600 megawatts. 

The CPS Energy board voted unanimously to approve the one-year extension, even gaining the vote of trustee Ed Kelley, who represents the utility’s northwest quadrant and who described himself as “not a fan of STEP.”
“We’ve already thrown away $700 million, so throwing away another $70 million doesn’t make that much of a difference,” Kelley told fellow board members. “But to go to a billion and a half with this kind of ridiculousness? I want to see some kind of analysis from people other than the people who have a vested interest in this.” 

Kelley, who routinely urges CPS Energy officials to focus on generating cash flow through power sales from its fossil fuel plants, has said that CPS Energy can’t continue to remain financially healthy while investing heavily to reduce its customers’ use. Kelley has also criticized San Antonio’s Climate Action and Adaptation Plan, which calls for CPS Energy to abandon fossil fuels over the coming decades.  

“I want to hear the whole story, not just half,” Kelley told CPS Energy staff at Tuesday’s meeting. “Not just the environmentalists’ side, not just the do-gooder side. I want to hear the whole damn story, OK? So let’s go ahead and make sure we get that type of analysis, too before you ask me to vote on $700 million for throwing away to this genie in a bottle that they laid out 10 years ago.” 

Trustee Janie Gonzalez said she agrees with Kelley in wanting a full analysis of the program. But Gonzalez also called the continuation of STEP “an opportunity to challenge CPS to see what other ways we can generate income, but not always at the expense of the environment.” 

City Council would need to approve the additional year of STEP, as well any continuation of the program. Council could vote on the one-year extension as soon as the end of the month, CPS Energy officials said. 

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