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Winter Storm Won’t Raise CPS Energy Bills For Now; Trustees Call For Review Of How Management Handled Crisis

Joey Palacios
Texas Public Radio

This story was updated at 9:35 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 22

CPS Energy will not immediately charge consumers for the cost of the winter storm in their upcoming bill, officials said during a press briefing on Monday.

Throughout Texas, power utility customers have reported high bills as the cost of energy catapulted upward during the winter storm. Last week, CPS Energy — which is owned by the City of San Antonio — said the cost could be spread out over 10 years. Officials with the utility service will look at options first, including the cost on energy bills in San Antonio.

CPS Energy CEO Paula Gold-Williams said customers won’t see high bills right away as the utility considers relief measures or seeks state or federal assistance.

“We will pursue that and every other remedy before we start putting these excess charges in any way on a bill,” Gold-Williams said.

The utility has also suspended it’s auto-pay features for bills for the time being.

She added said there would be a “tsunami” of affordability issues across the state related to the winter storm. Currently, CPS Energy is still calculating the cost of the crisis. At some points the cost of natural gas had increased to more than 16,000%, Gold Williams said.

Utility customers will not be disconnected due to inability to pay, a mandate that was already in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic and requirements enacted by the Public Utility Commission of Texas on Sunday in response to the winter storm.

The CPS Energy Board of Trustees met later in the day Monday to discuss the impacts of the winter storm and energy crisis as well as take comments from members of the public.

More than 100 CPS Energy customers and community members signed up speak, a rare number that’s exceptionally high for the utility.

Maria Lozano, a resident of Kirby, described her own experience to trustees saying she and her family were out of power for 56 hours from Tuesday through Friday.

“My husband and I both work from home, so our ability to work was also taken away from us," she said. "As we became more desperate we decided to rent a hotel room, ironically the only hotel we could find was downtown which had full heat and water while, us over here we had none at all.”

While the rollouts were mandated by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the comments targeted to CPS Energy ranged from anger, to questioning if CPS Energy properly managed the rolling blackouts and if they were equitably spread out.

Richard Perez, president of the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, said the previous week was one of the most shocking and challenging weeks for Texans in recent memory but adding recovery should be the focus on recovery related to the pandemic, the winter storm and the economy.

“Criticism and blame, while natural human tendencies during times of anger, fear and frustration can not and must not drive our actions and cloud of focus,” Perez said. “A full and proper review of what occurred last week will come at the proper time guiding our actions so that proper preparations to make sure the experiences of the last week will never be repeated.”

Many public comments focused on climate change. During her presentation to trustees, Gold-Williams briefly brought up climate change.

She compared the events of last week to 2011 which also saw rolling blackouts in freezing temperatures but only lasted for a few hours.The 2021 storm — and its impacts — lasted nearly a week with sub-zero wind chills on Monday and temperatures below freezing until Saturday.

“There are things that we need to continue to learn and improve realizing that this is something that happened and that we thought it was a 100-year event, but with climate science and the changes in the environment we have to to assume that we have to be more ready in the future for these to happen again,” said Gold-Williams.

She acknowledged all of CPS Energy’s plants and energy portfolio — including coal and solar — experienced some kind of interruption related to the cold.

At least two board members called for a formal review of how CPS Energy’s management handled the energy crisis. Trustee John Steen said his family lost power for several days and while he said they fared okay, others in San Antonio did not.

Steen asked that an independent review be conducted on communication, preparedness and disaster management.

“How did management react to this situation, what are the things that were done right, were there things that were done wrong?” Steen asked. “I believe our community demands and deserves such an independent review so that if another similar situation should occur we can learn from the past.”

He added the utility needs to understand the full financial impact of this winter storm.

San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg, who serves as an ex-officio member of the board, joined Steen’s call for a review.

“While many of the factors that triggered the devastating impacts and the electrical and water outages in our community that our citizens still suffer from were not all within our control. It certainly is our duty to report to the community how our public utilities — our community — got into this situation and what we can do to be better prepared for the future,” said Nirenberg.

A timeline for any potential reviews was not set.

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Joey Palacios can be reached atJoey@TPR.org and on Twitter at @Joeycules