When it comes to clean power, CPS Energy outranks nearly every major private-sector utility in Texas, though its initiatives fell short of other city-owned utilities in Austin and Denton, according to a new Sierra Club report

The environmental group’s Lone Star Chapter ranked 77 electric providers for its Texas Clean Energy Scorecard, which graded based on how much monthly power residential customers use per person, prices that create incentives for conservation, solar options, rebates for efficient appliances, and more. 

“Texas is by far the largest energy and electricity producer and consumer in the U.S., but it’s also the leading state in terms of carbon dioxide and other air emissions coming from our electricity sector,” said Cyrus Reed, the chapter’s conservation director. “We have a huge potential to invest in clean energy renewable resources – in fact, larger than any other state.”

The group gave CPS Energy a 65 on a scale of 1 to 100, praising the utility for its embrace of solar while faulting it for its plans to continue to run its J.K. Spruce coal units until the 2060s. 

The utility “has one of the more favorable scores in the state from the Sierra Club’s Texas Clean Energy Scorecard,” CPS Energy corporate communications manager Seamus Nelson said in a prepared statement. 

“Stakeholder input historically has been and continues to be a key component of our commitment to provide energy to our community that is secure, safe, resilient, reliable, environmentally conscious, and affordable,” the statement continued. “Our Flexible Path sees more increases in renewable energy as technology advances to serve our customers in a reliable and affordable manner.”

CPS Energy is the largest power utility owned by a city in the United States, with approximately 840,000 electric and 350,000 natural gas customers. According to the report, its customers consume an average of 1,084 kilowatt-hours of electricity per month.  

That’s a significantly higher amount than residential customers with Austin Energy, another city-owned utility, who use 847 kilowatt-hours per month, and scored an 80 in the Sierra Club’s report. Denton Municipal Electric residential customers use consume 987 kilowatt-hours per month and scored 67. 

MP2 Clean Energy was the only private provider to outrank CPS Energy. The Shell subsidiary delivers power largely to industrial and commercial clients in areas where retail electricity is competitive, like most of Dallas-Forth Worth or Houston. It scored a 71 but has only 6,000 customers using an average of 578 kilowatt-hours per month.

Overall, Texas utilities could be doing much more to improve energy efficiency, Reed said. One reason Texas falls behind other states is a weak standard set by the Texas Legislature, he said. Texas only requires investor-owned utilities to have energy efficiency efforts make up 0.4 percent of its peak electricity demand, with no such requirements for municipal utilities.

A recent scorecard by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy called Texas’ efficiency targets “some of the lowest in the nation,” ranking Texas 26th overall for energy efficiency.  

“It’s not that we’re not doing energy efficiency and demand response,” Reed said. “We are, we’re just doing it at a much lower level than other states.” 

CPS Energy’s efficiency efforts hit a milestone this year when utility officials announced their programs have reduced San Antonio demand by 771 megawatts, the equivalent of one of its coal-fired power plants, through its Save For Tomorrow Energy Plan, or STEP. 

CPS Energy is currently soliciting public comments on the program’s next phase, which it’s calling FlexSTEP, though it hasn’t revealed specifics about what such program might entail. Its previous STEP efforts included rebates for efficient cooling, heating, lighting and appliances; free home weatherization for low-income customers; solar rebates; and voluntary programs to cut use during high-demand times. 

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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.