Included in the proposition is a $50 million rebate to ratepayers after CPS Energy, the city’s public utility, took in $75 million more in unexpected revenue from the previous year.
$5 million would be credited to impoverished San Antonio residents under the Residential Energy Assistance Partnership (REAP). To qualify for REAP, one must have an income level at or below 125 percent of federal poverty guidelines.
The other $45 million would go to the remaining CPS Energy customers.
The rebate would equal 13.3 percent of the user’s July power bill, crediting an average of $31 dollars per customer. The destination for the remaining $25 million has not been determined but is proposed to be divided between various other projects.
The rebate comes on the heels of record-breaking summer temperatures. With sweltering conditions came abnormally high power bills for San Antonio residents.
Part of the spike was due to inflated energy costs across the board, with natural gas, coal, and oil prices peaking over the past few months.
Combined with input prices, hot conditions forced people across South Texas to increase their air conditioner usage to stay cool. In June alone, CPS Energy power bills jumped almost 50 percent.
Mayor Ron Nirenberg and City Manager Erik Walsh both support the rebate. In a press release following the budget proposition, Nirenberg wrote, “Considering the harsh realities of record high energy bills and inflation as we emerge from a global pandemic, the proposed FY 2023 budget illustrates responsible fiscal stewardship.”
“I welcome the opportunity to deliver tax relief and return $50 million in CPS Energy revenue to the public.”
Some members of the San Antonio City Council have other ideas for the windfall in revenue.
In last week’s budget meeting, Councilman Mario Bravo (District 1) started the discussion on the possible credit saying, “I look at the recent extreme weather events and I ask us to recognize that the Texas grid is strained. This grid has broken its demand record 11 times this summer.”
“Rather than give CPS customers a one-time break on one energy bill, I ask that we take this additional revenue from CPS Energy and we invest it in permanent solutions so we can reduce all of our energy bills.”
To accomplish this, Bravo advocated weatherization for poorer San Antonio neighborhoods, building more green spaces to eliminate the ‘urban heat island effect,’ and establishing warming and cooling centers around the city.
Councilman Jalen McKee-Rodriguez (District 2) also took issue with the prospect of a power bill rebate.
He told the council, “I am not sold that this rebate will be meaningful to enough people. This is just a credit, and it essentially ensures that CPS Energy bills get paid.”
“The reality for a number of my constituents is that they do not have insulation and their windows are insufficient. That is not something $31 is going to fix.”
McKee-Rodriguez would rather see the $50 million put towards sustainability efforts, like Bravo.
McKee-Rodriguez and other council members also criticized the proposition to give the city’s largest power users a higher absolute rebate than residential customers.
Because the rebate would equal a percentage of the monthly power bill, the city’s 40 largest power users would be credited an average of $100,000 each.
McKee-Rodriguez does not believe large companies using more power should be rewarded when residents have made an effort to conserve usage.
Departing from the idea of grid resilience, Councilman Manny Pelaez (District 8) believes the funding should go to preventing domestic violence.
“I am not beholden to the idea that $50 million in extra utility bill revenue needs to be spent on climate change,” he explained. “I would like to see a $25 million increase to domestic violence specific transitional housing for victims who move out of shelters.”
Pelaez added, “I would like to see a $10 million dollar investment on top of what’s already allocated to Metro health to specifically address domestic violence.”
An overwhelming majority of the council disagrees with the prospect of returning the windfall to San Antonio residents, citing different places where the funding should be directed.
On Tuesday, discussion continued over what to do with the funding. The meeting ended without reaching a decision. Budget discussions will continue over the next two weeks.
In order for the rebate to apply to ratepayers’ October power bill, it must be confirmed by September 1.
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Hudson Callender is a reporter for The Texan and a lifelong resident of San Antonio, Texas. Hudson recently graduated cum laude from Trinity University with majors in Economics and Political Science, and loves to study ancient history. Hudson is also an avid mountaineer, backpacker, and paddler, often leading trips to remote wilderness areas. Outside of his love for nature, history, and Lone Star beer, Hudson spends his weekends arguing with his friends about football, and will always stick up for the Baylor Bears, Dallas Cowboys, and San Antonio Spurs.