Public support of CPS Energy crumbled following power outages, Bexar Facts poll shows

Utility’s approval rating dropped below 50% following February’s deadly winter storm

CPS Energy (Joshua Saunders, KSAT)

SAN ANTONIOEditor’s note: The Bexar Facts-KSAT-San Antonio Report poll is a partnership that launched in Feb. 2020 with the aim of informing and engaging the San Antonio community. See the results of the fifth poll here.

The public’s job approval rating of CPS Energy took a nosedive following February’s deadly winter storm and widespread power outages, according to a new poll of likely Bexar County voters.

Only 46% of people who took part in the Bexar Facts-KSAT-San Antonio Report 2021 Q1 poll approve of the job the city utility is doing. That number is a massive drop compared to CPS Energy’s approval ratings in all four Bexar Facts polls in 2020.

CPS job rating from all 5 Bexar Facts polls. (Bexar Facts)

The last time local voters were asked in September, CPS Energy held an approval rating of 69% — 23 percentage points higher than the results of the new poll.

CPS Energy is a municipally owned utility company that provides electricity to more than 2 million people in San Antonio and Bexar County. For virtually all San Antonio-area residents, it is the only option to get power.

The polling shows that other city agencies, including the San Antonio Water System, or SAWS, and VIA Transit, did not see the same dip in public support after the outages — both still enjoy approval from more than 60% of likely voters.

The poll was conducted from March 23-29 by phone and internet in both English and Spanish. It includes responses from 618 registered Bexar County voters of different income and education levels, race, age, gender and political party affiliation. The poll’s margin of error is 4%. Read more about the methodology here.

CPS, SAWS, VIA job approval ratings in all 5 Bexar Facts polls so far. (Bexar Facts)

CPS Energy has shared some of the criticism for how power companies and the state’s electric grid operator responded to the massive winter blast, which has preliminarily been blamed for contributing to the deaths of close to 200 people statewide.

Rolling power outages and massive energy infrastructure problems left millions of Texans without power in mid-February as the state was hit with its worst winter storm in a decade.

CPS officials this week said they are working to learn lessons from the storm and regain the trust of their customers (see their full response to the poll near the end of this article). The agency announced a one-time credit to customers who were without power for longer than 24 hours during the storm. The credit, however, comes out to less than $10 for a majority of customers who were impacted by the outages.

Two-thirds of poll respondents also said they view possible rate increases to their utility bills as an “extremely serious’ or “very serious problem.”

The utility is currently grappling with around $700 million owed for natural gas bills after it was forced to buy large quantities of the commodity on the spot market, after the price had spiked.

A KSAT Defenders investigation on Wednesday revealed the utility’s natural gas deliveries did not jump in quantity until Feb. 11, days after experts began predicting energy infrastructure could be impacted by the winter blast.

Attorneys for CPS have now filed close to 20 lawsuits against gas suppliers and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), in an effort to get those bills reduced.

Who voters blame for power outages during winter storm

Even with CPS Energy’s drop in public confidence, the local agency largely avoided receiving most of the blame for the February outages.

When asked who is “most responsible,” more than half of the people polled — 52% — pointed to the state grid operator ERCOT. Thirteen percent blamed Texas Governor Greg Abbott and only 10% hold CPS most responsible.

“This is speculation, since we didn’t ask it in the poll, but I think a lot of the high-profile public attention to ERCOT decisions that contributed to a lack of infrastructure preparedness – as well as issues with billings in the wake of the outages – likely shone a real spotlight on them. Also, when ‘Electric Reliability’ is part of your organization’s name, you are likely to catch a lot of the blame when the electricity is not reliable,” said Dave Metz, founder of FM3 Research, which conducted the poll.

Who voters blame for February winter storm and power outages (Bexar Facts)

A CPS spokesperson released the following statement after being briefed on the results of the poll this week:

“These results from the latest Bexar Facts survey show that the public holds multiple state and local entities responsible for the 2021 winter storm outages and we understand their sentiment about us bearing part of that responsibility. While the majority of survey respondents are satisfied with our job, we also know that the storm has driven a decline in our approval rating. One day at a time, we are taking the lessons learned from the storm and now the important feedback from this survey to help us improve and regain our customers’ trust. Our active efforts include working with policy makers at the state and local levels; informing regulators at the state and national levels; proactively negotiating wherever we can; and as necessary, litigating to fight and protect all our customers from what we believe are outrageous charges for fuel and purchased power that were needed during Winter Storm Uri. Our goals remain on doing all we can to improve reliability, especially during major weather events while keeping San Antonio’s energy prices affordable in the years to come.”

CPS Energy spokesperson in statement to KSAT

A few other takeways from the polling: a majority of respondents, 56%, said they prefer to keep electricity and gas rates low, even if it means continuing to rely on coal and natural gas; forty percent of respondents said they prefer to speed up the transition from fossil fuels to clean energy, even if it means increasing electricity and gas rates.

Read more about CPS Energy:

About the Authors:

Emmy-award winning reporter Dillon Collier joined KSAT Investigates in September 2016. Dillon's investigative stories air weeknights on the Nightbeat and on the Six O'Clock News. Dillon is a two-time Houston Press Club Journalist of the Year and a Texas Associated Press Broadcasters Reporter of the Year.

Kolten Parker is digital executive producer at KSAT. He is an amateur triathlete, enjoys playing and watching soccer, traveling and hanging out with his wife.