Following the San Antonio City Council’s approval of the 2023 fiscal year budget Thursday, all CPS Energy customers will be receiving a rebate on either their November or December energy bill — if they choose to take it, that is.

As a result of discourse surrounding the rebate, the utility’s customers will be able to choose if they want to keep the money, pass it on to low-income residents to help pay their energy bills, or see it go toward city weatherization efforts.

The exact amount CPS Energy customers will each be receiving back is about 13% of their July bill. While that will be about $29 for the average residential customer who had a $230 July bill, for 40 large businesses whose July bills averaged $750,000, that means a rebate of roughly $100,000, according to city estimates.

That rebate, which was heavily debated by the City Council over the past month, is coming out of the $75 million in surplus revenue contributed to the city budget by CPS Energy due to an extremely hot summer and high natural gas prices. As a municipally-owned utility, CPS Energy contributes roughly 14% of its gross revenues to the city every year directly into the general fund. 

“This is the first time something like this has happened,” said Chad Hoopingarner, the utility’s vice president of financial planning. “Usually, it’s a one-way revenue stream.”

Now that council has made its decision on what to do with the windfall, the utility can get to work, said CPS Energy President and CEO Rudy Garza. He added that the utility wants to move quickly in establishing how customers can opt out of the rebate, should they choose to, in order to avoid adding it to a customer’s bill one month and then subtracting it again the next month.

“All of this requires effort on CPS Energy’s part to make it happen,” Garza said. “I sat there and wrote out with my team — right after the council vote — five different work streams that we now have to work on to actually get to the point where we can actually implement this.”

About $42.5 million is earmarked to go back to customers via the rebates, while roughly $7.5 million will go toward helping struggling residents through the utility’s Residential Energy Assistance Partnership (REAP) program. Of the $7.5 million, $5.5 million will go toward immediate assistance, and $2 million will go toward future assistance. The rest will remain in the city budget for climate resiliency efforts and sidewalks.

The rebate will be a welcome reprieve for many customers who have been struggling in the wake of the pandemic, Garza said. The utility is owed roughly $165 million in delinquent accounts, he said, so the $7.5 million from council and any returned rebates will be welcome aid to them.

Garza added that he plans to return his own rebate to REAP.

“I’ve also invited my leadership team to do the same as a show of goodwill,” Garza said. “To the council’s point, not everybody needs the money back … but 20% to 25% of our customers are behind.”

For residents who want their dollars to go toward weatherization efforts, Garza said that’s a great use, too. CPS Energy believes in the importance of addressing climate change and proofing the city against its effects, Garza said, which he added he hopes is apparent in the utility’s recent approval to extend its STEP program.

“We’re going to do a lot of weatherization over the next year … and if the city wants to set aside some additional dollars for weatherization, then we’ll figure out that, too,” he said. “I mean, we are the experts. If anybody should be doing weatherization, it should be us.”

DeeDee Belmares, a rate advisory committee member and climate justice organizer with Public Citizen’s Texas office, said she isn’t so sure a rebate was the best course of action, however.

Belmares noted that most folks will probably take the rebate, whereas the money collectively used by the city could have been helpful toward addressing urgent climate needs locally. Belmares said she and many other climate activists were onboard with the plans Councilman Mario Bravo (D1) was proposing.

“It would have been a good investment in in the future,” she said.

CPS Energy is a financial supporter of the San Antonio Report. For a full list of business members, click here.

Lindsey Carnett covers the environment, science and utilities for the San Antonio Report. A native San Antonian, she graduated from Texas A&M University in 2016 with a degree in telecommunication media...