SAN ANTONIO – In a conference room with whiteboards and glass doors, it finally happened.
For months, teams at KSAT had been requesting an interview with CPS Energy’s president and CEO Paula Gold-Williams following a deadly winter storm that affected area residents for weeks in February.
“All the things that CPS Energy did, I take full responsibility for, I run the company, we try our best,” Gold-Williams said.
Following the storm, CPS Energy officials have continued to attempt to dig out of both a billion dollars in energy supplier bills and negative perceptions about the company and its service.
“We have to keep building their confidence back. We have to keep making more investments and finding new solutions,” Gold-Williams said.
The slide in public approval for CPS has been steep.
In our Bexar Facts poll in April of 2020, their approval rating was at 77%. However, by March of 2021, it had slipped to 46%. The dip is likely connected to the power outages, but perhaps also to the way the city-owned energy company handled it.
Gold-Williams was largely unavailable for interviews during the storm, and the KSAT Defenders also uncovered internal CPS Energy memos that showed the company tried to rally support for Gold-Williams as the outages continued.
In one instance, a memo released to KSAT indicates that Gold-Williams was more concerned with the company’s public relations strategy than she was about restoring power to families in the area.
”It was more to get some communications going, but it was a draft that never got issued so we moved on. I think the important thing is we know that you have to always communicate with your customers and the comment was ‘Are you communicating enough?’ and the comment needed to be that this team is continuing to fight to create stabilization,” Gold-Williams said about the internal memo.
The company also was criticized for suing energy suppliers over the high prices, what Gold-Williams called “price gouging” during a state emergency, a lawsuit some legal experts call a longshot.
“The cost of lawyers and consultants to help us work our way through this is very much a minimal part of a billion-dollar bill. We’re not talking that we’re trying to save a billion dollars,” Gold Williams said. “So, you have to have people help you fight.”
Whether the courtroom fight pays off has yet to be determined, but Gold-Williams said that the expenses are necessary to protect area residents from spikes in energy rates.
“We want them to know the fight is for them, it is absolutely for them, this is a pass-thru cost, but we think in principle, no San Antonian and no Texan should be required to pay price gouging,” Gold-Williams said.
Gold-Williams ended the interview with KSAT by pledging to work with city and county leaders in the future and participate in the City of San Antonio’s review of the power outages.
Additionally, she pledged to keep fighting to keep the cost of energy low, even as rate hikes loom.