Fate of CPS Energy rate hike uncertain ahead of San Antonio City Council vote

KSAT poll of SA City Council shows no majority support, but several members are still undecided going into Jan. 13 meeting

SAN ANTONIO – In less than a week, the San Antonio City Council will vote on the first CPS Energy rate increase in eight years, but it’s not clear yet if there are enough votes to pass it.

The utility’s rate proposal is a two-parter -- a 3.85% increase to the base rate and a bump to the monthly fuel charge. Those two aspects combined would raise the average monthly residential bill by a little more than $5.

If the council approves the proposal at its Jan. 13 meeting, the new rates would take effect in March.

READ: 5 things to know about the CPS Energy rate hike

The proposal needs six votes to pass, though, and when KSAT contacted each of the council members, or their offices, to poll their stances on the impending vote, only five said they were at least “leaning” toward voting for the rate proposal.

On the other hand, defeat is far from certain. Only two council members said they were at least leaning toward voting against the rate proposal, while another three were undecided.

District 3 Councilwoman Phyllis Viagran declined to answer.

KSAT contacted each council member, or their office, to get their stance toward the Jan. 13 vote on raising CPS Energy rates (KSAT)

5 members were at least leaning toward voting for the rate increase:

  • Mayor Ron Nirenberg - Definitely YES
  • D1 Councilman Mario Bravo - Leaning YES
  • D4 Councilwoman Adriana Rocha Garcia - Leaning YES
  • D6 Councilwoman Melissa Cabello Havrda - Leaning YES
  • D9 Councilman John Courage - Leaning Yes

3 members were undecided:

  • D5 Councilwoman Teri Castillo
  • D7 Councilwoman Ana Sandoval
  • D8 Councilman Manny Pelaez

2 members were at least leaning toward voting against the rate increase:

  • D2 Councilman Jalen McKee-Rodriguez - Definitely NO
  • D10 Councilman Clayton Perry - Leaning NO

WHAT’S BEHIND THE STANCES?

CPS Energy was always going to face an uphill battle with any kind of rate increase, but the past year has made things even harder.

The extended outages in the February freeze shook many people’s confidence in the utility, and the cascade of scandals that followed did little to help.

Originally, the utility had planned for a double-digit percentage increase to customers’ bills, but ended up with a pared-down request at the urging of city officials.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg, who is also a member of the CPS Energy Board of Trustees due to his position, is supportive of the request for a rate increase.

“It’s a reasonable request and a dramatic improvement from where this process started,” Nirenberg said in an emailed statement. “It has been eight years since the last rate increase, and CPS Energy leadership has done what we have asked and narrowed the request to basic operations, maintenance, and weatherization. They have done their proper due diligence on this request.”

Meanwhile, District 1 Councilman Mario Bravo said he was leaning towards a “yes” vote, only days after telling KSAT he wasn’t yet sold on the proposal.

Bravo’s support comes with a caveat, though. The freshman councilman wants an independent study of the utility, which he says would look at the utility’s corporate culture, management structure, and potential cost savings.

He says he has been meeting with utility trustees and interim CEO and President Rudy Garza, and “so far I’m getting a lot of alignment on what needs to be done.”

“So my vote is based on what kind of commitments -- firm commitments, detailed commitments -- I can get out of CPS Energy, and it looks like we’re getting close. But there’s...more discussions to have,” Bravo said.

District 6 Councilwoman Melissa Cabello Havrda, who is also leaning towards voting for the rate hike, announced Friday she had sent a formal request to CPS Energy leadership requesting the utility conduct a third-party audit and provide a public budget and processes document that examines, in detail, the organization’s finances and management practices.

“There’s an adage that says ‘Trust in God, but tie your horse,’” the councilwoman said in a news release. “I’ve listened to constituents and to the reasoning for a rate increase. I am considering voting in favor of the request but will do so with the transparency of an exhaustive audit and the scrutiny to the Public Utilities Committee. In the end it’s a delicate matter of openness and transparency.”

On the other side of the issue, District 10 Councilman Clayton Perry had several concerns about the increase. Chief among them is the timing.

“This is this is probably the worst time ever to come in with a rate increase,” Perry said, explaining why he was leaning toward voting against the rate increase. “And when I say ‘worst time ever,’ everybody knows what’s happened over the last year, year and a half, not only with COVID and people still being out of work, but also the ‘snow-vid’ thing that happened this last winter.”

VOTE INFORMATION

City council will meet at 9 a.m. on Thursday, Jan. 13, to discuss and vote on both parts of the rate hike.

You can get more information on the proposal here.


About the Author:

Garrett Brnger is a reporter with KSAT 12.