SAN ANTONIO – Internal CPS Energy documents obtained by the KSAT 12 Defenders show that customer anger and confusion over winter storm bill credits persisted months after the credits were issued last year.
The embattled utility issued one-time credits in April to customers who experienced prolonged power outages during last February’s winter storm. The credits in most cases amounted to $8.75, but increased incrementally between an additional $50 and $100 for customers who were without power for two days or longer.
Customers who called the utility to dispute the amount of credit issued by the utility reported being “upset” in 39% of cases, according to CPS Energy data compiled as of mid-July. Another 22% reported being “confused,” the data shows.
To date, CPS Energy has received more than 3,000 disputes, with only a handful of complaints still outstanding, utility officials said.
As of Jan. 24, 65% of customers who disputed their credit were given more money toward their bill than had originally been applied, utility records confirm.
“We admit that we had challenges with our bill credits and that our approach is that we are doing everything we can to make it right,” said DeAnna Hardwick, CPS Energy’s Interim Executive Vice President of Customer Strategy.
Hardwick described the process of determining how long each customer went without power as “complex,” pointing out that CPS Energy has more than 1.2 million meters in the community and that the mass credit initiative was the first time the utility had attempted to use meter data in this way.
“When we issued the bill credits it really was an effort to acknowledge that it was such a poor experience during the winter storm,” said Hardwick.
CPS Energy officials earlier this year released more than 1,600 pages of records showing how the one-time bill credit program was created and then carried out.
The records included dozens of spreadsheets detailing customer complaints and the efforts made by utility officials to address them.
One customer told utility staff in early July that she felt like they were calling her a liar, after refusing to give her a bill credit that matched the three days she had gone without power.
Even though meter data showed the customer had only been without power for slightly under 48 hours, a utility executive suggested moving her up to the $50 credit range to “diffuse the situation,” emails show.
Officials redacted the portion of the emails regarding whether or not the customer was eventually issued the higher credit.
Former CPS Energy customer Kelly Janis, who said she was continuously without power for more than 51 hours, provided records showing she had to follow up with the utility three times before she was issued a $50 credit. Janis said utility officials issued the higher credit only after she threatened to contact the media.
“There was a sentence about how there’s no estimated time frame in which they’ll respond, which I kind of interpreted as ‘I’ll never hear back from them,’” said Janis, who added that she lost three days of wages from her remote job, after her Northwest Side apartment lost power continuously and also experienced rolling outages during the storm.
“The credit doesn’t at all make up for my lost wages from those days. If they’re going to try to make this effort to improve their image in this feeble way, they should follow through with this promise that they’re making,” said Janis.
“I didn’t see anything about bill credits or utility assistance?”
The records also indicate that CPS Energy officials at times had to be prodded into discussing the bill credits publicly.
After utility staff prepared a presentation for the Mission Del Lago Homeowner’s Association in late May, the chief of staff for District 3 city council reached out and implored them to change topics.
“I didn’t see anything about bill credits or utility assistance? This neighborhood was severely impacted during the Artic (sic) blast in which residents were without power between three to four days with no rolling blackouts. The questions that the residents have are not regarding an overview of February’s Winter Storm, they want answers to CPS relief efforts on the one-time bill credit along with assistance in covering there (sic) Utility bills,” wrote District 3 Chief of Staff Ruben Lizalde.
“We were getting many requests from customers and we wanted to make sure we were providing as much information. We understand that it was, like I said, a negative experience for our community and wanted to be as transparent as we could about what happened, what we were in the process of changing,” said Hardwick, when asked by the Defenders why they had to be told by members outside the utility to shift the focus of these meetings.
Hardwick said over $3 million in bill credits have now been issued and that any CPS Energy customer who still has a credit question or dispute can call 210-353-2222 for assistance.