CPS Energy assures customers that even if they are behind on payment they will not face service disconnection.
CPS Energy assures customers that even if they are behind on payment they will not face service disconnection during this week's approaching cold snap. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

CPS Energy’s Rate Advisory Committee (RAC) met for the first time Thursday, giving its members a chance to introduce themselves and speak with CPS Energy board members as the city-owned utility weighs a potential rate increase for the first time since 2013.

The committee’s 21 members include 10 people appointed by the CPS Energy board members and 11 appointed by City Council. Former District 8 Councilman Reed Williams is the chair, and Eloisa Portillo-Morales, city strategist for the Natural Resources Defense Council, is the vice chair.

The group’s purpose is to examine the utility’s rate structure and comes after environmental activists and Mayor Ron Nirenberg pushed CPS Energy for more transparency in its governance. 

Committee members met for about two hours with CPS Energy CEO Paula Gold-Williams, board Vice Chair Janie Gonzalez, and Nirenberg, who sits on the board in his official capacity. 

Williams gave committee members a rundown of the RAC’s new bylaws, processes, and purpose.

“We have to understand where we are in this process and how we fit in,” Williams said. “We have to be very clear that the authority in [the rate] process is still with the board [of trustees]. … Right now we only have influence, but in the long run having influence is probably one of the most lasting things you can have, because we are voters. We are citizens. We are ratepayers, and … we’re going to be here in a large number.”

To committee member Anita Ledbetter, success would be influencing a rate structure that allows CPS Energy to reengineer a clean, equitable, resilient, and affordable system. Other members of the committee echoed her sentiments.

“This company should work together to provide data-driven feedback within an equity framework that will allow CPS Energy to build a rate structure that addresses extreme weather events through innovation,” said Ledbetter, executive director of Build San Antonio Green and former climate steering committee co-chair. 

The committee’s work will be split into two phases, an educational phase and an analytics phase. The first phase, the educational phase, will start in mid-June and is expected to run through August, Williams said. During that time, the committee will meet every two weeks.

The purpose of this phase is to make sure all members of the committee understand how CPS Energy works, and how utilities work, and how rates work, Williams said.

The analytics phase will be one in which the committee discusses ideas and tries to come up with solutions for CPS Energy’s rate system, Williams explained. 

“While we might not get an agreement, we clearly need to get an understanding,” Williams said. 

Resources that will be available to the RAC will include CPS Energy staff, a consultant hired by CPS Energy to aid the group, and an administrator dedicated to aiding the group, Williams said. Later meetings will be open to the public and will likely have a public comment period toward the end of each meeting or during special meetings, Williams said. A public committee webpage will contain video archives of the meetings and will include short biographies of each member, he said.

Meetings will be livestreamed from the committee’s CPS Energy webpage. 

Earlier this week Gold-Williams said CPS Energy is considering a rate increase as soon as this fall to address the shortage of funds it is facing due to the pandemic and Winter Storm Uri. If enacted, the average CPS Energy customer could see his or her bill increase by $9.70 to $14.60 per month. City Council must approve any increase.

With this placeholder rate increase in play, there is “no lack of work” for the committee, Williams said. 

“Again, [we] can’t tell [the board] what to do,” he said. “We’re going to try to figure out what we think we would advise [to] be done, and that’s a big difference.”

To read more about the 21 members of the committee, click here.

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

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Lindsey Carnett

Lindsey Carnett covers the environment, science and utilities for the San Antonio Report.