CPS Energy board members have made their picks for a 21-member committee that will dive deep into the electric and natural gas utility’s rate structure.

The Rate Advisory Committee (RAC) started as a request from climate activists who wanted a full, open examination of the utility’s rate structure and its long-term planning for its power plants. Mayor Ron Nirenberg, a CPS Energy board member in his official capacity, began pushing for a RAC in January 2020.

Fearing an environmentalist threat, local business groups initially worked against the RAC, but some, including the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, later accepted the notion because of the San Antonio Water System’s history of convening RACs to study water and sewer rates.

“I think we’ve got a really great group of professional backgrounds,” CPS Energy Chief Customer Engagement Officer Rudy Garza told board members Thursday, citing the mix of engineers, military retirees, investors, developers, business leaders, and environmental activists nominated to the committee.

The RAC’s creation comes as CPS Energy struggles with more than $1 billion in natural gas and wholesale power bills from February’s winter storm. The utility has not yet said how much it will have to pay and how it will pass the costs on to its customers. CPS Energy leaders have been foreshadowing the need to raise rates for the past three years but haven’t yet made a case to City Council, which would vote on whether to approve any rate hike.

Here are City Council members’ 10 nominations for the RAC:

  • District 1: John Agather, investor and former chair of the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
  • District 2: Seymour Battle III, senior vice president of communications, public relations and engagement at Valero Energy.
  • District 3: Lulu Avitua, a business owner and St. Mary’s University graduate student.
  • District 4: Peter Onofre, operations administrator at New Life Christian Center.
  • District 5: Andy Castillo, designer and president of the Quintana Community Neighborhood Association
  • District 6: Alvaro Rodriguez, president of electrical equipment sales firm A Marketing and Services.
  • District 7: Eloisa Portillo-Morales, city strategist for Natural Resources Defense Council and former deputy chief sustainability officer for the City.
  • District 8: Michael Kennick, chief engineer for the human resources branch of the Air Force.
  • District 9: Ann Marie Nikolich, an employee of the Clarity Child Guidance Center, according to CPS Energy.
  • District 10: Jack Hebdon, Jr., investor and Bakke Development Corp. executive.

Castillo currently serves on CPS Energy’s Citizens Advisory Committee, a 15-member volunteer group that meets behind closed doors to discuss the utility’s operations. Avitua and Rodriguez formerly served on the Citizens Advisory Committee.

The nominations also include 10 picks by CPS Energy board members.

Board Chair Willis Mackey nominated Wayne Eddington, a civil engineer, and Anthony Edwards, a human resources professional and 27-year former CPS Energy employee.

Vice Chair Janie Gonzalez nominated real estate investor Michael Sanchez and DeeDee Belmares, climate justice organizer for Public Citizen and a leader in the recent Recall CPS petition campaign.

Trustee John Steen appointed former multimedia company owner and military newspaper publisher Jim Berg, as well as Dana McGinnis, founder of oil and gas investment firm Mission Advisors.

Trustee Ed Kelley nominated residential developer Norman Dugas and Curtis Anastasio, chairman of liquified natural gas carrier firm GasLog Partners and former NuStar Energy CEO.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg appointed former District 8 Councilman Reed Williams and Olufemi Osidele, water and renewable energy consultant and former co-chair of the City’s climate steering committee.

Board members jointly nominated Anita Ledbetter, executive director of Build San Antonio Green and former climate steering committee co-chair.

CPS Energy’s list of RAC nominees includes some understated resumes for two members. It lists Reed Williams, a former oil and gas businessman and San Antonio Water System trustee who currently chairs Nirenberg’s committee on storm preparedness, as a “grape farmer.” Williams owns a vineyard in the Hill Country.

Agather, the former Hispanic Chamber chair who recently launched a political action committee to support small business-friendly candidates in City Council races, was billed as a “musician.” Agather plays guitar in local rock band the Juantanamos.

John Agather

During the meeting, Steen remarked on Agathers’ and Williams’ occupations, as listed in CPS Energy’s presentation materials.

“I know former Councilman Reed Williams has had a distinguished career in business, but I saw that he self-identified as a grape farmer,” Steen said.

“Yeah, we thought that was pretty cool,” Garza replied, laughing.

“And then we also have a musician,” Steen said.

Without any discussion, board members unanimously voted to have Williams chair the RAC. Board members were divided on a vice chair, with Gonzalez nominating Portillo-Morales and Steen nominating Avitua. Gonzalez, Nirenberg, and Mackey voted for Portillo-Moralez; Steen and Kelley voted for Avitua.

The RAC will set its first meeting date in May, Gonzalez said.

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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Brendan Gibbons

Brendan Gibbons is a former senior reporter at the San Antonio Report. He is an environmental journalist for Oil & Gas Watch.