This story has been updated.
Two consecutive hot summers have had an impact on CPS Energy customer bills, leading to confusion around what costs have gone up and why.
CPS Energy officials have said there are two main causes for rising bills in the summer: first, customers are using more kilowatt hours per month to keep their homes cool as triple-digit heat forces air conditioners to work harder.
Second, changing costs of natural gas have affected bills as well.
The most recent CPS Energy rate increase, which took effect in March 2022, has also contributed to higher bills, but not to the degree that high temperatures and spiking natural gas costs have, utility officials say.
But how can a customer tell by reading their bill?
The utility acknowledges that its billing system can be difficult to understand. And although it has a bill explainer online, the San Antonio Report wanted to better understand what goes into each line item and where costs are rising, so customers can see exactly where the increase is coming from on their own bills.
Monthly charges affected by the 3.85% rate increase, which went into effect in March 2022, are marked with a *, and we included costs from before the rate increase for comparison. Customers are also paying roughly $1.26 in each bill to cover the cost of fuel charges CPS Energy racked up during Winter Storm Uri — we’ll show you where.
(A) Your electricity use
This graph allows customers to see at a glance how much electricity they used during the month, as well as each of the past 12 months in kilowatt-hours (kWh).
(B) Your natural gas use
This graph allows customers to see at a glance how much natural gas they used during the month, as well as each of the past 12 months in standard cubic feet, or ccf. Users who do not have gas service will instead see a monthly message here.
(C) Account comparison summary
This summary provides customers with another quick way to compare their current month’s use of electricity and/or natural gas with the previous month and the same month the year before.
(D) Bill summary
This quick overview shows the amount due from the previous month’s bill, what the customer paid plus, the city’s solid waste fee charge, and state and local sales taxes of 8.25% (6.25% state sales tax plus 2% local sales tax), which is applied only to the city services fee. This portion of the bill also lists any additional service charges, such as for programs like Windtricity or All Nite Security Light, which customers can enroll in for a fee.
(E) *Service availability charge
This is a fixed monthly charge to recover billing and metering. Billing costs include the paper the bill is printed on, the envelope and mailing costs. Metering covers the physical meter, transmission lines and poles, down to screws and bolts. Prior to the rate increase, this charge was $8.75.
(F) *Energy charge
This is where charges vary the greatest because the amount depends on how many kilowatt hours the customer uses in a particular month. As customers are discovering, the weather affects how much power a household uses, as it takes more energy to cool a home to 72 degrees when it’s 100 degrees outside than it does when it’s 80 degrees outside. In this example, the customer used 2,290 kWh in June. Prior to the rate increase, each kilowatt-hour cost roughly $0.0691, and so the charge would have been $158.24, a $6.37 difference.
(G) *Peak capacity charge
This charge can be found on bills from June through September. It is an additional charge for every kilowatt hour used in excess of 600 kWh. During peak capacity months, each kilowatt hour after the first 600 kWh costs roughly $0.09248 total — the standard $0.07188 per kWh energy charge, listed above, plus about $0.0206 per kWh peak capacity charge. CPS Energy says this charge is to encourage customers to conserve during months when energy demand is highest and has been a part of CPS Energy’s rate structure for more than 30 years. Prior to the rate increase, each peak kWh cost roughly $0.0198, so for this customer, before the rate increase, the charge would have been $33.46, a $1.35 difference.
(H) Fuel adjustment
CPS Energy says the fuel adjustment charge is one of the least understood charges on a residential bill. This charge applies to the same kilowatt hours covered by the Energy Charge — in this case, 2,290 kWh — and so fluctuates monthly. It covers the difference between the base cost customers are charged for their electricity use (the roughly $0.07188 per kWh in the Energy Charge, or the $0.09248 center per kWh charged from June-September) and how much it actually cost CPS Energy during the past month to generate that power.
This charge ranges from an additional $0.015 per kWh to $0.045 per kWh, and depends on what CPS Energy pays for fuel (such as natural gas and coal) each month, plus how much of those sources the utility uses. When the market price of natural gas is high, this charge goes up.
The electric fuel adjustment also has baked into it the cost of CPS Energy’s $350 million conservation plan, which averages about $3.50 per month per customer.
Customers also pay about $0.00087 per kilowatt hour toward the Winter Storm Uri recovery costs.
(I) Regulatory adjustment
This covers two costs — the cost of statewide transmission and the cost CPS Energy pays to be a part of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT). As part of ERCOT, CPS Energy is able to buy additional power from the market as needed and to sell excess power into the market. ERCOT is responsible for managing the statewide electric grid, and as such charges a mandatory fee to recover its administrative costs for managing the grid.
(J and N) Affordability discount
This discount helps customers with an income at or below 125% of federal poverty level, but eligible customers must affirmatively enroll in the program. As a part of the recent rate increase, the discount was increased from $12.30 to $16.14 per month for customers with electric and gas — an $11.67 discount on the electric portion of the bill and a $4.47 discount on gas. Before the rate increase, the discount was $8.55 for electricity and $3.75 for gas. CPS Energy offers other discount programs for specific customers.
If a customer does not have natural gas service, these charges will not be seen on the bill.
(K) *Service availability charge
As with the electric service availability charge, this covers the utility’s fixed metering and billing costs related to natural gas use.
(L) *Energy charge
This charge is variable, depending on how much natural gas a customer uses. Natural gas is measured in ccf, or standard cubic feet. The base rate paid for each standard cubic foot is roughly $0.51062. A cubic foot of gas is the amount of gas needed to fill a volume of one cubic foot. One cubic foot of natural gas is about 1,000 British thermal units (BTU) of heat energy. A BTU is the amount of heat required to raise one pound of water one degree Fahrenheit at or close to its point of maximum density. Prior to the rate increase, each standard cubic foot cost roughly $0.49. This customer, whose only gas appliance is a stove and oven, would have paid about $1.47 before the rate increase, an $0.08 difference.
(M) Fuel adjustment
The fuel adjustment covers the difference between the base rate customers are charged for natural gas use and how much it actually costs to get and deliver that gas. This charge fluctuates with the market price of natural gas.
Customers also pay about $0.013349 per standard cubic foot toward the Winter Storm Uri recovery costs.
(O) City services
This fee includes the City of San Antonio’s solid waste fee, which covers the cost of garbage, recycling and green waste pickup and environmental fees for solid waste and parks. Customers are charged according to what size bins they utilize. Customers who use large bins will be charged a total of $30 per month, medium-sized bins will be charged $22 per month, and small bins cost $18 per month. This is considered a “pass-through” charge and customers with questions about it are directed to call the city.
(P) Budget payment plan
Only customers enrolled in CPS Energy’s budget payment plan will see this section. The budget payment averages the past year’s bill to come up with a set monthly charge each month, allowing customers to more easily budget what they pay each month and avoid spikes. To be eligible, customers must have maintained an account with good payment history for at least a year.
This customer’s monthly bill is $296, even though they were billed $377.43. In the spring and fall months, the customer will still pay $296, even though the true cost will be less. At the end of the year, the customer will “square up” with CPS Energy, paying additional costs if they used more energy than they were billed for, or seeing a surplus amount rolled over to the next bill. CPS Energy recalculates the fixed monthly bill each year.
(Q) Meter read detail
This lets customers know whether their meter was read (R) or estimated (E). CPS Energy said its roughly 1.3 million gas and electric smart meters are read electronically every month. The remaining 5,000 or so analog meters must be read manually; if a meter reader can’t get out in a particular month, the usage is estimated and trued up the following month. The utility said it estimated about 140 meters in June.
Do you still have questions about your bill? Leave us a comment below, and we’ll do our best to get you an answer.
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