By Bill Oakey, September 12, 2022
San Antonio City Council member, Mario Bravo, has set an example that we should follow here in Austin. He is proposing to use part of their $75 windfall from high summer electric bills for a variety of wonderful programs that will protect the utility and help consumers. His plan is much better than giving ratepayers a one-time rebate of $22 to $29. Here’s the kicker in Council Member Bravo’s proposal. It would allow San Antonio to apply for Federal matching funds, to DOUBLE the amount of the revenues!
Let’s Double Down On This Opportunity!
This is a game-changer that changes my recommendation for Austin. I have asked each of the pro-consumer participants in Austin Energy’s rate case to make a list of the revenue options they have identified in their filing briefs. Let’s use those revenues to wipe out the rate increase. Then, let’s follow Council Member Bravo’s example. But first, we need Austin Energy to release their fiscal year to date Budgeted vs. Actual revenues. Bravo for Mr. Bravo!
The Texas Longhorns almost beat Alabama on Saturday. Let’s give them and the rest of the City a big win in the rate case. It is 4th down, and we’re just inches from the goal line. We can score a full consumer victory. And then get the extra dollars to sweeten the deal! Here is the San Antonio news story:
Let’s invest CPS revenue in real solutions to high energy bills
Due to an extremely hot summer, CPS Energy’s contributing revenue came in at $75 million over the city’s 2022 budget, and the city proposed returning some of that money to customers as a discount on their October bills. While a bill rebate after a summer of high bills sounds good at first, taking a closer look at where the money goes, we see how it could cost residents a chance at real solutions and savings.
In the city’s proposed rebate plan, the average residential bill would get a $29 rebate, and many would get even less. Half of my District 1 residents would get less than $22. Commercial customers would account for nearly half of the $42.5 million returned to customers, and residents and businesses outside of San Antonio would also get a significant amount.
This is a bad deal for San Antonio residents, and it’s why I’m proposing we invest some of this extra revenue to help protect residents from future high energy bills and prepare for more extreme weather.
As a city-owned utility, CPS Energy is owned by San Antonio residents. As owners, we now get a return on your investment every year with up to 14% of all CPS Energy revenue going into your city’s annual budget to help pay for your sidewalks, libraries, police and firefighters, parks, and more.
What about CPS Energy customers who aren’t San Antonio residents and therefore aren’t owners of CPS Energy? Under the current proposal, $12 million would go to residents and businesses outside of San Antonio.
There is also a huge corporate welfare component to this rebate proposal. Commercial customers will receive almost $20 million, with one corporation alone receiving close to $1 million.
I didn’t run for office so that I could transfer wealth from our city to corporations and residents outside of San Antonio. Fortunately, some council members have developed an alternative proposal which includes the following:
- Create safe community spaces for extreme weather events and emergencies: Install backup power in public buildings for when the electric grid goes down. These buildings will serve as public cooling centers during heat waves and heating centers during freezing weather, as well as distribution sites for emergency supplies.
- Protect low-income residents against future high energy bills: Weatherize and install energy efficiency upgrades to help reduce energy waste. The Department of Energy has found that weatherizing a home saves $372 per year on average. This will also reduce the peak electricity load on our utility, which then saves all CPS Energy customers on future bills.
- Reduce urban heat and flooding: Plant trees in the hottest parts of our city to provide shade and cool our city down by up to 9° F on hot days. Also, plant trees that can absorb up to 4,000 gallons of water per year near drainage basins where we have flooding problems.
- Add funds to a program to help prevent our most vulnerable CPS Energy customers from having their electricity cut off. This applies to low-income customers who are senior citizens, disabled, have small children in their homes, or require critical-care equipment.
The timing for this proposal is just right to achieve more for every dollar we invest. The federal government just passed the $700 billion Inflation Reduction Act, which includes $1.5 billion for tree planting and $1.9 billion to reduce urban heat island hot spots. Passing our proposal allows us to demonstrate that San Antonio is serious about doing this work and allows us to apply matching funds for the federal grants, allowing us to double or triple our investments.
The only reason we have this additional city revenue is because this summer heat wave has been brutal. We can expect to see summers like this and possibly even hotter going forward. Corporate welfare and rebates to people outside of San Antonio are a bad idea and do nothing to help address our future extreme weather and electricity grid challenges. Let’s invest these revenues, which could be doubled or tripled through federal grants, to protect our community against future extreme weather and associated high energy bills.
San Antonio has decided to allocate $42.5 million of the surplus for customer rebates. The rebates will be optional, as explained in this article.