City Council Approves CPS Energy Rate Hike

In a 8-2 vote, San Antonio City Council approved to raise monthly CPS Energy gas and electric bills by 4.25 percent, marking the first increase in three years. Council members Rebecca Viagran (District 3) and Carlton Soules (District 10) voted against the increase.

Photo by Mary Tuma

The rate hike is actually less than initially proposed– but not by a lot. After public uproar over a 4.75 percent increase amid sizable executive pay and bonuses, the utility promised to come back with a figure that wasn't as hard to swallow. In total, CPS employees received $16.2 million in bonuses, while CEO Doyle Beneby saw $1 million in accumulated incentive pay this year, as the Current previously reported. Social justice advocates warned council against the hikes, claiming CPS would overburden middle-class families. Council members, including District 7's Cris Medina and District 4's Rey Saldaña, expressed similar concern for low-income and fixed-income customers. Likely hoping to diffuse the criticism, Beneby vowed to lessen the monthly charge and restructure the bonus program.

The new system would reduce employee pay out by 16 percent. The $4 million saved would be directed toward expanding affordability programs for lower income customers, according to CPS. Beneby also suggested cutting the incentive pay program by 50 percent in 2015 and 2016.

During a presentation before council today, Beneby says CPS heard from 2,000 customers via 15 sponsored events, which led to additional plans to improve services, like more aggressive outreach to low-income residents. CPS says the increase is needed to support more than $1 billion in electric and gas infrastructure improvement over the next two years.

While most council members thanked CPS for being receptive to their concerns, they also pressed the city-owned utility company to be mindful of accommodating low-income and fixed-income customers. For instance, District 1's Bernal referred to his talks with Beneby about a possible single payment flat rate for fixed-income seniors. District 5 Council member Shirley Gonzales and Viagran additionally stressed the burden of a monthly bill raise to their constituents and hoped CPS would make good on its promise to reach out to lower income customers.

"It will be very, very difficult for them and detrimental for them," said Viagran, a dissenting vote. "I look forward to reaching these goals in the coming year, it will allow me to vote for this in the future."

The raise, amounting to an average $4.68 a month, will take effect Feb. 1, 2014.