Departure of CPS chief Paula Gold-Williams dims likelihood utility will seek a rate hike this year

click to enlarge CPS Energy had planned to seek council approval for a 10% rate increase. - TWITTER / CPS ENERGY
Twitter / CPS Energy
CPS Energy had planned to seek council approval for a 10% rate increase.
Best not hold your breath waiting for CPS Energy to ask city council for a rate increase.

Signals from the CPS's board and San Antonio's mayor suggest the pending departure of CEO Paula Gold-Williams will put the brakes on the municipally owned utility's request for a 10% rate hike later this year.

Trustee Janie Gonzalez told the Express-News Thursday that she's currently opposed to a rate increase, saying CPS first needs "gain the trust of the community." In addition to council, any change in rates would need approval from the utility's five-member board of trustees. 

“Whether [Gold-Williams] stays or not, I was not going to support it,” Gonzalez said. “We have to get our house in order first.”

Outgoing trustee Ed Kelley, a business stalwart who's among Gold-Williams' key backers, defended the need for a rate increase to the Express-News. Stung by February's winter storm on top of the pandemic, CPS is facing hundreds of millions in expenses from sky-high gas rates during the first crisis and past-due customer bills from the second.  

Even so, Kelley told the daily he has doubts about the timing. 

“Should they go forward with [a rate increase]? From an economic perspective and a practical perspective, the answer is yes,” he said. “But from a political perspective, that’s a much different situation.”

Mayor Ron Nirenberg, who serves on CPS’s board of trustees and would also have a say on council, wouldn't tell the Express-News whether he'd support an increase. However, in a statement supplied to the paper, he didn't sound like he was in any hurry.

“City staff is conducting a thorough analysis of CPS Energy’s budget and finances,” Nirenberg said in that statement. “I will not be ready to discuss the proposed rate adjustment until that analysis is complete.”

Of course, CPS could make the strategic choice to bring a proposed rate increase to council before Gold-Williams' early 2022 departure so she, rather than her successor, looks like the villain. Even so, political winds suggest that's not the most likely scenario.

Four members of CPS's seven-member executive team have departed this year, the latest of which, Chief Operating Officer Fred Bonewell, resigned last week. What's more, a recent poll shows the utility's approval rating underwater with Bexar County voters.

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