When Trey Jacobson wrote in a recent commentary that the Recall CPS petition is about political power, he wasn’t wrong. However, the real political power to be reckoned with is not that of environmental and social justice activists, it’s the power of business and the status quo. 

Power in this city has long been closely held by a small group of very wealthy individuals, corporations, and business alliances. These are the powers that stopped paid sick leave despite over 100,000 petition signatures and gutted the Climate Action and Adaptation Plan, discarding thousands of hours of volunteer work at the last-minute behest of large commercial interests, including CPS. 

Jacobson laments the firefighter charter amendments, two of which passed, despite tens of thousands of dollars contributed in opposition by business leaders. This fear of the voters is the same reason we are stuck with the Vista Ridge pipeline. The “business community” insisted on a $3 billion project paid for by ratepayers (not business beneficiaries) and denied residents the right to vote on this boondoggle.

Jacobson described CPS as being “governed by a small, business-like board of trustees,” but failed to mention that, beyond knowing about business, these trustees need know nothing about climate science, renewable energy, social and environmental justice, or public health. If the only interests represented are business interests, decisions will reflect that. These decisions, much like Jacobson’s claim that “any reasonable analysis concludes that arbitrarily shutting down these generation plants would be unrealistic, impractical, and expensive,” only see one side of the issue.

Our Power Coalition members have asked for an equitable, timely path to shut down the Spruce plants for three years. Our deadlines are not at all “arbitrary” but based on the best available climate science. And renewables are getting cheaper, and battery storage is coming in a much faster, more cost-effective manner than CPS acknowledges.

Jacobson’s comparisons with Austin are entirely misleading. He mentions Austin’s 2015 discussion about possibly emulating San Antonio and CPS. He does not mention that they decided against our example. Austin continues to use a citizens advisory commission for input on all aspects of energy, as we suggest. Their climate plan takes them to over 90 percent non-fossil fuel use by 2030, far better than our Board-limited Flexible Path.

In his commentary, Jacobson also states that the Recall CPS petition “seeks to require CPS Energy customers to pay extra if they use ‘more’ electricity than others.” We state this clearly. CPS rates should be revamped to be equitable to our low-income populations, and to encourage energy conservation and efficiency, not waste. We have the second-highest per capita energy use in the U.S., after Phoenix. CPS Energy needs to stop giving big discounts to subsidize large business users.

In one of the country’s poorest cities, our unaccountable CPS Board paid CEO Paula Gold Williams last year earned $930,669 – more than the manager of Los Angeles’ combined water and power department. This pay is outrageously generous, and insulting to our ratepayers struggling for economic survival and improvement.

Democracy should work for all people, not just the rich and powerful, so yes, this petition is about power. It is a challenge to the entrenched powers that run our city. It calls attention to the urgent need for more responsive, equitable, and just local government and utilities. And it calls on action to address climate change. We call on voters to sign the petition to get this on the May 2021 ballot. Do we want a utility accountable to its citizen owners, or accountable only to the big money powers that continue to run this city?

Terry Burns is chair and lifetime member of Alamo Sierra Club and a retired pathologist.