CPS Energy will extend its energy efficiency program for another five years at roughly the same cost to customers as they’re paying now, the board of trustees voted Monday.

The contours of the program will differ slightly — rooftop solar subsidies will likely be replaced with more community solar options — but the overall goal remains the same: to reduce local energy demand through programs that allow customers to save energy and take advantage of greener options.

Trustees voted 4-1 for the option that would reduce demand over the next half-decade by 410 megawatts at a cost of roughly $350 million. That equates to about $3.50 on a customer’s average monthly bill, which is roughly what customers already pay for the program.

Trustees had three options to choose from; the first would have spent $250 million to save 265 megawatts. Last month the board sought an even more aggressive option, which they were presented with Monday, that could save up to 500 megawatts at a cost of $500 million.

The sole opponent of continuing the program in any form was trustee John Steen, who has become increasingly vocal about the program’s cost in the wake of Ed Kelley’s retirement from the board in January. Kelley formerly was the loudest opponent of STEP on the board, which he called “throwing away” millions on “ridiculousness.”

Monday, Steen echoed Kelley’s sentiments, calling the $3.50 cost on average customers’ bills a “tax.” Steen asked that CPS Energy pause the program to perform another study on how helpful the program is to the local community. Consulting group Brattle Group has already performed such a study which Steen noted, but he said the group may have conflicting interests since it has worked with CPS Energy in other areas.

Prior to the board’s vote Monday, CPS Energy interim CEO Rudy Garza called the program a major success.

“We achieved our goal and we’ve extended the program twice already,” Garza said. “There’s nothing left to study.”

On the other side of the coin, the board’s newest trustee, Francine Romero, moved to support the most ambitious of the options presented Monday.

Romero said given the seriousness of climate change, CPS Energy needs to be a leader in energy conservation. Her motion failed, despite receiving vocal support from environmental advocates and several members of the utility’s Rate Advisory Committee and Citizens Advisory Committee.

Originally known as the Save for Tomorrow Energy Program (STEP), the utility’s energy efficiency program has saved about 1,000 megawatts in demand since it began in 2009 — far more than the original goal of saving 771 megawatts, and enough power, the utility says, to avoid building a new fossil fuel plant. One megawatt is enough electricity to power 200 Texas homes on a summer day.

The program has been extended twice by the City of San Antonio since its inception. Without City Council approval, the existing program is set to expire at the end of July.

Council is expected to vote on the extension June 16.

Following the board’s approval Monday, Garza said the board’s approval will help customers in the long run. He pointed out that “every utility company in the country has an energy efficiency program of some kind.”

CPS Energy’s, he said, “just happens to be robust,” in that it provides options for every class of customer. “That’s what you should hope for.”

Energy efficiency is “the fifth fuel,” he said, “in the sense that if you don’t use that energy, that’s a power plant that I don’t have to build.”

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.