City council still split on plan for $50M in extra CPS Energy revenue

Mayor and city staff want to send money back to customers; others think it would be better used preparing for extreme weather

SAN ANTONIO – The third time wasn’t the charm.

After yet another discussion Tuesday on how to spend $50 million of extra CPS Energy revenue, the 11-member San Antonio City Council still appears split nearly down the middle regarding a city staff plan to send most of it back to consumers as bill credits.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg has been a strong proponent of the rebate idea, but several council members doubt the bill credits, worth an average of $29 for the average residential customer, would help the people who need it most.

There has also been a push to spend the money on helping the city and its residents prepare for future extreme temperatures instead. But unlike the staff’s rebate proposal, there hasn’t been consensus on how exactly that would work.

The council appeared to be split 5-5 on the bill credits idea at the end of Tuesday’s budget discussion, with the final council member, District 7 Councilwoman Ana Sandoval, seemingly undecided.

So, with the FY 2023 budget vote coming up on Thursday, it’s unclear if the council will delay deciding how to spend the money, or if the original plan will get pushed through due to a lack of any clear alternative.

The city estimates it will take in an extra $75 million of CPS Energy revenue for the current fiscal year because soaring temperatures and natural gas costs have inflated customer bills. City staff have recommended using $25 million for sidewalks, aquifer protection funding, and acquiring a warehouse to store emergency supplies.

The other $50 million, they have proposed, would go back to customers -- with $7.5 million for a low-income assistance program, REAP, and $42.5 million in the form of bill credits on all customers’ November bills.

The staff proposal also included an opportunity for customers “opt-out” of the rebate and redirect toward REAP for low-income assistance as well as weatherization.

The credits would be calculated based on 12.5% and 12.7% of their July bills, creating a wide array of possible credits.

The average residential customer would get $29 back. Meanwhile, the 40 commercial customers in the “super large power service” classification with bills averaging $752,211 would get back $94,711 on average.

District 1 Councilman Mario Bravo has been one of the loudest voices calling for the money to be used to prepare for future extreme weather, through funding programs like home weatherization.

“After we have the next brutal summer or the next tough winter, I’m not going to be able to look my constituents in the eyes and say, ‘Well, I gave you 26 bucks back, but, sorry, I didn’t do anything to really protect you against these future bills and protect you against these future challenges where we can’t keep the grid stable.’ I refuse to do that,” Bravo said Tuesday.

Other council members, like District 4′s Adriana Rocha Garcia, said their residents want the credits.

“The residents that I represent appreciate $26, $29, $32 -- whatever it is -- going to help them. And I don’t think that I would be able to look at my residents in the eye and tell them that I went against their wishes,” she said.

Some council members raised the possibility of not allocating the money yet and discussing the issue further.

However, since staff’s rebate plan was part of the proposed budget, City Manager Erik Walsh says council members would need to amend the budget on Thursday to hold onto the money.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg has previously questioned whether existing programs that deal with the issues raised by council members would be able to handle the influx of money.

Despite the obvious split during Tuesday’s budget discussion, Nirenberg said afterward he thinks, “There’s consensus forming around the idea that we shouldn’t just immediately spend the money because we have excess revenues.”

City council is scheduled to vote on the FY 2023 budget at 9 a.m. Thursday.


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About the Authors:

Garrett Brnger is a reporter with KSAT 12.