SAN ANTONIO – UPDATE - This article now includes a statement from CPS Energy released Tuesday night
CPS Energy has now spent over $7 million on outside attorneys and consultants to fight natural gas bills it racked up during February’s winter storm, records obtained by the KSAT 12 Defenders show.
The fees, paid to five different law firms and two consultants, stem from the utility’s decision earlier this year to file close to 20 lawsuits against many of its natural gas providers and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT).
CPS officials released the updated records late Monday night, hours after announcing that Rudy Garza would take over as interim president and CEO of the utility next week.
Officials told the Defenders Tuesday night the agency does not plan to shift its legal strategy now that Paula Gold Williams has announced her resignation.
Gold Williams, who is scheduled to depart the beleaguered agency in January, will serve in an advisory role during her remaining time at CPS Energy, officials said.
She was a proponent of the strategy to sue ERCOT, the state’s electric grid operator, as well as many of the companies that supplied natural gas to CPS Energy during February’s winter blast.
Attorneys for the utility have argued in court that many of these suppliers charged exorbitant prices for fuel, and that CPS Energy had no choice but to pay hundreds of millions of dollars while trying to supply power to its customers and its power plants during the storm.
Fourteen of the 18 suits filed were pending as of Tuesday morning, state and federal court records show.
One lawsuit is set for trial next June, while another is scheduled for trial next September, according to state court records.
Attorneys for CPS Energy have dropped the claims in the four other suits, including one in federal court that could later be refiled, court records reveal.
Utility officials have not said if these suits were dropped after reaching negotiated settlements on the amount owed to each supplier.
Outside attorney and consultant fees
CPS Energy has paid five outside law firms a combined $5,974,012.71, according to financial figures released Monday night.
More than half of those fees, $3,322,957.45, has gone to Dentons US LLP, its lead counsel in the ERCOT suit. The suit accuses the grid operator of overcharging power companies, including CPS Energy, during the storm.
The utility has also paid a combined $1,062,147.90 to two unnamed consultants.
A majority of that total, $997,147.90, has been paid to a consultant providing support for the gas litigation.
CPS Energy officials have refused to provide the name of either consultant, citing a past Texas Supreme Court ruling that allows agencies to keep the identity, mental impressions, and opinions of consulting experts confidential.
CPS Energy officials released the following statement Tuesday night:
“CPS Energy continues our fight to protect our customers from the financial impacts of the winter storm and is committed to doing so. This issue is straight forward - certain natural gas suppliers price gouged during a declared natural disaster in order to reap huge profits, which is against public policy. Those natural gas suppliers are trying to make the people of San Antonio and Texas pay, and we’re continuing our fight to stop them from doing so. We stand by the merits of our cases.”
Disputes over the legal approach played a role in the decision of the utility’s senior legal team to resign this summer, officials previously conceded.