A seven-member committee dedicated to investigating February’s winter storm response discussed Friday what questions they should send to CPS Energy.
The Committee on Emergency Preparedness met for the second time Friday after establishing the broad topics it wanted to address last week. Former councilman Reed Williams chairs the committee, which was formed by Mayor Ron Nirenberg after freezing temperatures and snowfall caused power and water outages for San Antonio area residents last month.
Committee members have been split into three groups, each focusing on a key player in the city’s winter storm response, Williams said. He and Councilwoman Ana Sandoval (D7) comprised the group assigned to CPS Energy. The two drafted a list of questions they had for the San Antonio electric utility and asked their fellow committee members for feedback during the hour-and-a-half-long meeting Friday.
Topics included how “uninterruptable” circuits were chosen, how power plants and distribution lines were readied for cold weather, and what communication plans CPS Energy had during the winter storm.
Williams advised committee members to format questions with care. He suggested structuring questions to determine how a situation unfolded rather than who to blame for making certain decisions.
Committee members stressed the importance of making its work comprehensible to the public. The questions presented Friday were too technical for a layperson to understand, Councilman Clayton Perry (D10) said. Councilman Manny Pelaez (D8) concurred, suggesting the committee release a glossary of terms to accompany any findings or answers from CPS Energy.
“I have talked to my constituents and there’s consensus in that there are so many moving parts here that they don’t understand who the players are,” Pelaez said. “If I asked folks, ‘How does energy get from wherever it’s generated into the grid and then from the grid into your house?’ Most people don’t know.”
Perry and Pelaez both attended the meeting via video conference. The rest of the committee members met in the Henry B. González Convention Center.
Instead of providing a glossary for people to refer to, the committee must strive to provide clear explanations, committee member and attorney Lisa Tatum said. Vice chair and retired Gen. Edward A. Rice Jr. agreed.
“[People] don’t care about building the watch so much, they just want to know what time it is,” he said. “So I think what we’re really kind of talking about is we have to build the watch with the more detailed questions so that we can ultimately figure out what time it is.”
Sandoval said she would work with the City’s chief financial officer Ben Gorzell to make sure explanations on how utilities work would be provided to the public as well.
“Sometimes we forget that we’re learning and we’re trying to get the information but we’re also responsible to the public to make sure that they get that information,” she said.
The questions will be sent to CPS Energy early next week, Williams said, though he did not provide an estimated timeline for the utility’s response.
Rice, Tatum, and Councilwoman Adriana Rocha Garcia (D4) will lead questioning for the City of San Antonio and the Emergency Operations Center, while Perry and Pelaez will tackle the San Antonio Water System. The committee will discuss questions for those two organizations next week, Williams said.