Fall Geis: CPS Energy kingdom to crumble (a bit)

Board Chair Geis tries out a new hairstyle while trying to maintain utility control.

Greg Harman

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It was not the best choice for a daughter-to-work day: waiting out what turned out to be a marathon closed-door meeting of CPS Energy's Board of Trustees.

Nine floors above the increasingly haggard-looking media contingent, irrepressible policy wonks, and union members, the CPS Energy Board of Trustees were getting the dirt Monday on which utility employees knew nuke contractor Toshiba had been estimating the cost of the planned expansion of the South Texas Project nuclear complex was $4 billion beyond the city's budget, how long they had that information, and why it wasn't shared with the Board and the City Council.

Though they broke at 7 pm, the Board went back into executive session today and is expected to release details and dispense justice this afternoon.

Before reentering the Star Chamber today, Board Chair Aurora Geis told the Current that some aspects of recent reports â?? the fact that staff may have known of the $4 billion discrepancy for as long as a year â?? would be discredited in the end.

“There are provisions of the contract we agreed upon, and the timing of that information given to CPS is not necessarily in step with Toshiba's release of information,” Geis said.

Several times she complained nuke-expanding partner NRG Energy did not share “the same values” as CPS. But whether she was referring to the transparency of public ownership versus private ownership (a transparency CPS has yet to fully realize) or competing environmental commitments (hinging on your eco barometer regarding nuclear power), was unclear.

“We don't have a bottom-line approach,” Geis said. “I can't say with a lot of confidence that our partner has the same values.”

Nukes aside, NRG has been aggressively trying to establish itself in the low-carbon energy future â?? exemplified in that whole Texas' largest solar plant thing that, perhaps, is not to be.

But, by all means, skip my clouded attempt at analysis and read Geis' 7 pm statement for yourself:

We believe the external team performed a thorough, complete and unbiased investigation. They reviewed hundreds of e-mail messages, management communications practices, contracts, employee schedules, notes, call logs and presentations. The team interviewed 12 CPS Energy employees as well as four external parties.

So, we now know what happened and who was involved. There was a communications failure, and we are taking steps to ensure this will not happen again.

The investigation found that certain CPS Energy management employees did not timely communicate information about a substantially higher preliminary cost estimate. This information was not shared with the CPS Energy Board of Trustees, other leadership at CPS Energy and the City Council as it should have been.

On behalf of CPS Energy, the Board of Trustees apologizes to the City of San Antonio, the City Council and the people we serve for this breakdown in communication. We know this incident has shaken public trust and confidence in this organization. We will do everything in our power to restore that trust.

CPS Energy will strengthen our internal communications procedures, and make sure our employees are familiar with them. The lesson from this unacceptable incident is clear: We have to be more open and transparent. I want that message heard by everyone at CPS Energy.

Anyone at CPS Energy who receives significant information should pass it along. When in doubt, disclose it. Any employee who believes that information is being improperly withheld should alert a supervisor and report the lapse to our chief audit and ethics officer. We should never have another situation like this. We value a culture of trust and transparency, and will maintain CPS Energy's history of quality service to this community.

We had a lengthy discussion and question-and-answer session relating to the investigation and the report. We will reconvene tomorrow to take further action, at which time we will be glad to take your questions.

Thankfully, when the nearly news broke, the spawn and myself were cooking quesadillas and cueing up I Love Lucy episode “Too Many Crooks.” The suspicion-fueled slapstick of Lucy versus Ethyl in full period man-dress was providing far better entertainment for us both.

Of course, we'll have to give it another shot this afternoon. And while the full report prepared by San Antonio attorney Bob Bettac and Helen Madison, CPS Energy's chief audit and ethics officer, may not be released in toto, Geis insisted (a day after Mayor Julián Castro did some of his own insisting to the same point): “The public needs to know.”

We suspect whatever mid-level bashups take place we'll still be seeing Co-CEOs Milton "Looks Like I Stayed Seven Months Too Long" Lee and Steve "What Did You Get Me Into?" Bartley at the next meeting.

It's the one after that gets hazy for us.

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