Independent Student Newspaper for the University of Texas at San Antonio

The Paisano

Independent Student Newspaper for the University of Texas at San Antonio

The Paisano

Independent Student Newspaper for the University of Texas at San Antonio

The Paisano

Electric bills on the rise

CPS Energy Board of Trustees recently proposed a rate increase for the city of San Antonio. This rate increase, if approved, would go into effect on Feb. 1 2014. Residents would see their energy bills increased by 4.75 percent or $5.19 for the average household.

CPS last raised its rates in 2010 and has been struggling to keep costs low since the economic decline of 2008.

Even with this proposed rate increase, the cost of CPS Energy would remain among the lowest rates for Texas metropolitan areas and the second lowest among the largest 20 cities in America .

The rate increase would cover the cost of expansion and update city infrastructure. CPS CEO, Doyle N. Beneby, released a statement in defense of the possible increase for CPS customers.

“San Antonio is growing. Infrastructure needs updating. Poles, pipes, cable, substations and power plants all need upgrades,” stated Beneby. “We are modernizing our power grid to allow for new technologies that will help us and our customers be more efficient.”

According to the Census Bureau, San Antonio grew by 25,400 residents in 2012 alone. As the population expands, CPS is asked to complete an increased number of service projects by the City of San Antonio and Bexar County. These projects include relocating electric gas facilities for street and drainage improvement.

While the rate increase will be minimal for the middle-income earner, many have spoken out against the rate increase, calling it an undue burden on senior citizens.

On Sept. 9, City Council held a hearing to receive citizen opinion on the proposed rate increase. The small group of around 20 citizens present to protest brought attention to issues that have been controversial for CPS in the past, such as large executive pay, a lack of transparency and pollution from energy production.

In order to mitigate the potential cost to low income customers, CPS will be expanding its Affordability Discount Program. This program is aimed at reducing the cost for low wage earners and reduces monthly bills by $12.30 for qualifying customers. In 2012, this discount was offered to 250,000 customers.

In response to public criticisms, CPS has rebutted by arguing that the company has made sacrifices for efficiency. The company has even reduced the size of its own staff. CPS currently has 3,389 employees; in 2010 the electric company had 3,700 employees, even fewer than the 4,200 it had in 2007.

Since the rates are cited as being necessary for construction projects, some San Antonio residents have asked if bills will return to original rates after the CPS projects are completed. A spokeswoman from CPS (Tracy Idell Hamilton) responded to this inquiry by saying it was unrealistic to expect rates to go back down. Hamilton believes that with the expanding population and necessity to maintain an environmentally efficient infrastructure, the price of energy will inevitably rise.

CPS has, in the past, come under criticisms for providing lofty bonuses to its top executives. Hamilton responded, “Money for salaries, bonuses and raises are part of the CPS Operations and Maintenance budget, which has actually stayed flat and will remain so for at least the next two fiscal years.”

Hamilton addressed the significant allocation of bonuses by saying that while it has been highly criticized, “For now, at least, the leadership believes that by making a portion of one’s salary at risk, that is, we don’t meet certain metrics, we don’t earn those bonuses, helps drive performance… unlike some Wall Street investment bankers, if employees don’t meet their goals, they don’t get their bonuses.”

Students at UTSA, one of CPS’s largest customer bases, have noticed the potential increase. Timothy Garcia-Giddens, UTSA president of the Students United for Socioeconomic Justice, has said that while the group isn’t planning any direct action, they stand in solidarity with other San Antonio environmental and anti-poverty groups.

“If CPS needed to offset infrastructure and related costs in their continued growth, they shouldn’t have given those significant bonuses, while attempting to pass on cost to the customer,” stated Giddens.

If the rate hike is approved by City Council, CPS customers can expect to see their bill rise on Feb. 1 2014.

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