Petition to bring more accountability to CPS Energy
By DeeDee Belmares
This op-ed was originally published in the San Antonio Report on Nov. 5.
By DeeDee Belmares
In a recent San Antonio Report opinion piece, Robert Rivard wrote that the current petition drive to force more accountability from CPS Energy results from months of unsuccessful negotiations between grassroots organizations in San Antonio and CPS Energy’s management. The reality is that these discussions surrounding rate structure, power generation, and public input have been going on for years, and they’ve yielded very little progress.
That’s why we’ve started a petition for City Council to take control of the utility, close the Spruce coal plant, and bring more transparency to rate setting in San Antonio. Under the current CPS governance structure, the public utility is controlled by a board that is not accountable to the public. We think San Antonio residents should have more say in how CPS is operated, and voters deserve a chance to make that happen.
Closing the dangerous, polluting J.K. Spruce power plant southeast of downtown San Antonio on Calavaras Lake is the key demand of the petition. Coal plants emit particle pollution known as particulate matter. These almost invisible particles are so small they can easily enter our lungs and eventually the bloodstream causing shortness of breath, excessive coughing, and wheezing. The poison from these coal plants contributes to San Antonio’s tragic distinction as a Texas leader in child hospitalization from asthma, and it’s estimated to kill six people each year.
Heeding the call from scientists for a worldwide reduction in fossil fuel usage to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, the environmental and public health community has called for CPS Energy to close Spruce by 2030.
CPS Energy maintains that shutting Spruce down before then could lead to rate increases, yet the utility has consistently resisted making public any economic data supporting that claim. In January of this year, Public Citizen, the consumer advocacy group I work for, was forced to submit a public records request for that financial modeling data. Ten months later, we have yet to receive the requested information.
For more than a year the environmental community has pressured the utility to seek proposals for alternate energy options that would supplement aging generation capacity. After resisting and dragging their feet for a year, CPS Energy only recently issued a request for that information. Still, lacking competitive, credible information about alternative energy sources, CPS Energy CEO and President Paula Gold-Williams has suggested that the cost of using renewable energy could cause rate increases. But that doesn’t jibe with the latest comparisons of energy costs, which show that both wind and solar are cheaper than existing coal plants.
Over the last several years, our coalition of community-based advocacy groups have pushed CPS to examine its rate structure with input from the community in the form of an advisory committee. While CPS Energy hasn’t raised rates since 2013, its rate structure is neither fair nor equitable.
CPS offers lower rates to high energy users like large commercial customers at the expense of residential customers. Every summer, CPS puts out a call to customers to reduce their use while large commercial users are offered rate reductions as their energy consumption increases. This is unfair. It doesn’t encourage energy efficiency by the city’s largest electricity users. Many everyday customers don’t realize this, even as they feel the financial pinch of the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s what this petition campaign is all about – creating a community-driven process that considers the cost of electricity for San Antonio’s most vulnerable citizens while promoting energy efficiency for the most voracious users.
On several occasions, CPS Energy has warned that the utility will demand a rate increase in 2021 due to financial losses during the pandemic because large commercial customers are using less energy.
CPS Energy faces an uncertain financial future because of its own bad decisions. For years, ratings agencies have warned against keeping uneconomic coal plants like Spruce open any longer. Now, investors are nervous because they see CPS resisting the economical, forward-looking clean energy that is in the best interest of the public it serves.
If the Recall CPS petition and the referendum that will follow it are successful, CPS Energy will have just years to do what it should have done long ago: invest in clean, affordable energy to keep the community healthy and electricity rates low.
DeeDee Belmares is Public Citizen’s organizer in San Antonio. She is also a member of the San Antonio Report’s Board of Community Advisors. See a full list of community advisors here.