Struggling San Antonio residents need not worry about their utilities staying on for the holidays.

CPS Energy will continue its annual tradition of suspending disconnections through the holidays, officials told members of the City Council’s Municipal Utilities Committee on Tuesday. The San Antonio Water System will suspend disconnections for several weeks during the season.

A CPS Energy executive also told committee members that in its efforts to collect payment on delinquent accounts, it will soon follow SAWS’ example and begin auto-enrolling eligible residential customers into payment plans.

While CPS Energy has yet to disconnect any residential customers, it will hold off on cutting off residential and commercial customers through Jan. 4, CPS Energy’s Senior Director of Corporate Communications Melissa Sorola said Tuesday.

The electric utility has shut off roughly 351 commercial customers since resuming disconnections in October, but has had success restoring service to about 74% of those customers, Sorola said. The majority of properties not reconnected were vacant, she added. CPS Energy is owed roughly $141 million from delinquent accounts, the utility said during a City Council meeting earlier this month.

“In general, we typically do not do disconnections during the holidays,” Sorola said. “Nor do we do them during extreme weather events.”

SAWS paused disconnections as of Nov. 19 and will not cut off residential or commercial customers until Dec. 5. It will briefly resume disconnections from Dec. 6 through Dec. 16, and then will hold off on disconnections again from Dec. 17 through Jan. 3, said Anne Hayden, communications manager of SAWS.

At the end of September, SAWS had roughly 65,000 customers who were 60 days delinquent or more and at risk for disconnection. That total is now at a little over 58,000, “so it’s going in the right direction,” said SAWS Vice President of Customer Experience Mary Bailey.

The total outstanding amount owed to SAWS by those customers is about $50 million, Bailey said. She added that SAWS may collect up to $10 million from the city to help cover some of that balance after City Council approved using $30 million of its ARPA funding to aid struggling residents with utility assistance earlier this month. CPS Energy will be eligible for $20 million. Customers applying for this aid must meet three eligibility requirements: that they reside in San Antonio, are enrolled in a payment plan or affordability program, and have proof of hardship that occurred between March 2020 and September 2021.

“It looks to be that we would have to qualify close to 35,000 customers in order to get … the entire $10 million, but that is going to be a challenge,” Bailey said. “Right now we are currently working with the city to understand what options we may have.”

It will be hard to get every one of those customers to show documented proof of pandemic-related hardship, Bailey said. Types of documentation the utilities will accept include a pay stub, proof of unemployment, a layoff notice or a self-signed affidavit, she added.

After seeing the number of its delinquent customers continue to grow month over month from this time last year, CPS Energy will begin auto-enrolling customers into payment plans to help them avoid disconnection, Interim Executive Vice President of Customer Strategy DeAnna Hardwick told the committee. Customers who are actively participating in the payment plan are not eligible for disconnection.

CPS Energy will auto-enroll into installment plans residential customers who meet two criteria: Accounts must be past due and they must live in a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development-qualified census tract, or be enrolled in one of the utility’s assistance programs, Sorola said. The utility does not have a definitive date on when it will start these auto-enrollments yet, she added.

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

Lindsey Carnett

Lindsey Carnett is the Science & Utilities reporter for the San Antonio Report.