New options to save energy and money this summer from CPS Energy

cps energy logoWe all know it’s going to be a hot summer, but an El Nino weather pattern could potentially bring even warmer than normal temperatures to the area. Combine that with natural with gas prices that remain high following the harsh winter, and you’re looking at higher than average summer energy bills.

Luckily, CPS Energy has expanded its demand response programs, including new ones that work with window units as well as central air conditioning systems. They help customers lower their bills and help the utility use less power when it’s most expensive (and that keeps costs down for all of us).

The average residential customer is expected to use 1,572 kilowatt hours of electricity per month from June through September, resulting in a bill of $174.37. That’s up about $21 from average bills from the previous summer.

That potential increase means there’s a strong need for energy conservation, said Executive Vice President Jelynne LeBlanc Burley, “so we’re doing everything possible to help our customers lower the amount of energy they’re buying. It gives them a smaller bill and reduces demand on the state grid.

“We have everything from an average of $5,000 of free weatherization improvements for qualifying customers to a kit that allows customers to program their window AC units. We’ve also added rebates for the popular Nest Learning Thermostat™,” she added.

Customers can decrease the amount of energy they use and buy through a number of energy efficient options, including:

  • Casa Verde weatherization program (free) – average of $5,000 in improvements decreases average bill by $27
  • Friedrich’s Kühl Window AC unit – programmable unit to manage temperature settings
  • Nest Learning Thermostat™ – learns temperature preferences and programs itself allowing customer to manage temperature with a smart phone or computer
  • Home Manager (free) – saves an average of 10 percent by allowing customer to manage central AC, electric water heater and pool pump with a computer, smart phone or tablet
  • Smart Thermostat (free) – Honeywell programmable thermostat allows customer to manage temperature using computer or laptop
  • Cool Energy Program smartAC kit (free) – wireless smart plug for existing window AC allows customer to manage temperature with a smart phone or computer.

Most of those are part of CPS Energy’s Demand Response programs, which allows CPS Energy to briefly bump up your thermostat a couple degrees on the hottest summer afternoons, when demand peaks. Customers receive a credit on their bill at the end of the season, which goes through September, for participating.

Customers also can take advantage of rebates for air duct systemsrefrigeratorsAC unitssolar systems and more by visiting cpsenergysavers.com. Energy efficiency tips such as setting a thermostat between 78 – 80 degrees and raising the temperature several degrees when leaving a home for several hours are more ways to save.

Families experiencing financial hardships and military veterans burned during service can get bill assistance through a variety of programs. CPS Energy commits a minimum of $1 million annually to the Residential Energy Assistance Program (REAP). Last year, customers partnering with their energy provider contributed more than $200,000 to assist local neighbors in need.

 

CPS Energy seeks rate increase

By Tracy Idell Hamilton

cps energy logoCPS Energy will ask the San Antonio City Council to approve a 4.75 percent rate in October.

If approved, the new increase would go into effect Feb. 1 of next year, and boost the average residential customer’s bill by $5.19.

CPS Energy last raised rates in 2010.

Last year, CPS Energy was able to forego a previously planned rate increase by aggressively reducing costs, increasing efficiency and delaying certain infrastructure projects.

It was able to do so while remaining in the top two percent of all credit-rated utilities in the country, a position that keeps borrowing costs low.

To maintain that strong position, however, CPS Energy must now increase revenue.

Because providing affordable, reliable power is CPS Energy’s main mission, the utility will continue to refine its business practices, root out waste and make decisions about its future power supply that hedge against risk and higher costs.

Even with the increase, CPS Energy rates will remain among the lowest in Texas, and the lowest among the top 20 largest cities in the country.

View the rate increase request presentation to the Board of Trustees

San Antonio’s economy is growing, which means CPS Energy is growing. But those new customers don’t completely cover the costs of expansion, nor do they cover the costs of upgrading existing infrastructure.

As CPS Energy’s customer base grows, so to do the number of civic improvement projects the utility is asked to do by the City of San Antonio and Bexar County, such as relocating existing electric and gas facilities to support street and drainage improvement projects.

New technology and environmental regulations also require strategic investment to keep up with industry standards and customer expectations. Improvements to the electrical grid, scheduled to begin later this year, will increase efficiency, allowing CPS Energy to see and respond to power outages remotely.

The upgrades will save money and increase reliability in the long run, but require substantial investment today.

Energy efficiency and conservation has been a crucial part of CPS Energy’s overall strategy to keep rates affordable, and it has exceeded those goals by 300 percent.

Those programs benefit customers in two ways – by reducing household utility bills and delaying the need to add more power plants to CPS Energy’s fleet.

To ease the burden on our lowest-income customers, CPS Energy is expanding its Affordability Discount program, which helps qualified customers by reducing their monthly bill by $12.30 monthly for gas and electric customers. That’s more than the amount of the rate increase.

CPS Energy has additional programs to help those in need as well.

In the coming weeks, CPS Energy will communicate clearly and often with customers and elected officials about why a rate increase is needed. That will include lists of specific capital projects and upgrades.

Read the letter from CEO Doyle Beneby.

CPS Energy is hosting a series of Customer Care Fairs in neighborhoods around the city and county to answer questions and promote programs that can help customers save money on their bills.

CPS Energy expands social media presence in Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to reach customers quickly

cps energy logoWhen police alerted CPS Energy that a man posing as a utility employee gained entrance into a house on the city’s West Side with the intent to assault the resident, CPS Energy’s communications team swung into action.

After quickly calling a joint press conference with police to remind customers they can verify an employee by asking to see ID and calling CPS Energy, the team turned to social media.

The team posted the same information on CPS Energy’s Facebook page and Twitter account. All day long, customers who follow CPS Energy on Twitter retweeted the information, while Facebook fans shared it with their friends, sending our message out to a much wider audience.

The week before, the team alerted customers of two localized power outages on Facebook. Reaction was swift. Customers let CPS Energy know their power was out and where, and then again when it was restored.

Customer William Long wrote, “I called non-emergency about 20 minutes ago to let them know the traffic lights are out at Tammy/Blanco… but it seems you may already know that. Thanks for posting!”

After power was restored, Long wrote, “Great use of social media!”

“I like it that you have a Facebook page, CPS,” wrote another customer. “Thanks.”

Like many companies today, CPS Energy has expanded its presence on social media outlets like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube because those have become important ways to reach customers quickly.

“It’s no longer an option, we must participate,” said Kate Cooper, CPS Energy’s social media project manager. “We need to engage the customer where they are — and they’re on social media.”

In the past, Cooper said, customers would call, and later email CPS Energy when they had an issue or wanted to report a power outage. Today, she said, it’s more common, especially for younger customers, to send CPS Energy a message from their mobile devices to Facebook or Twitter.

CPS Energy, in turn, can keep customers updated during power outages, letting people know crews are on the way, or about how long they’ll have to wait until the power comes back on.

“People are appreciative of getting information,” Cooper said, “and knowing someone is listening to their concerns.”

CPS Energy uses social media to remind customers about different ways to save money and how to be more energy efficient. It’s also a way to remind people, Cooper said, “that there are people behind the logo — we’re your neighbors.”

The social media team is comprised of employees in CPS Energy’s corporate communications office, who have taken on social media duties in addition to their regular jobs.

Last year, CPS Energy also launched the Energized, blog, which allows the utility to tell its own story. Recent articles have included the background behind CPS Energy’s decision to alter its solar payment system, how and why the company pays bonuses when performance metrics are met, and that employees and partner companies recently raised more than $80,000 for Respite Care of San Antonio.

There will always be a place for traditional media like television and newspapers, and customers will always be able to call when they need to pay a bill or discuss an issue.

But as our customers come to rely more and more on social media to stay on top of the news of the day, and to share their own lives, CPS Energy will be there.

CPS Energy’s Demand Response program savings surprises customers

cps energy logoWhen CPS Energy approached Doyle Jennings of Oak Hills Church three years ago about participating in the utility’s Demand Response program, he thought it was possible that the church’s largest building would be able to shed 100kw of power when demand on the grid was highest.

“Turns out, we were able to save 300kw,” said Jennings, the church’s plant engineer. Last summer, they saved more than 500kw.

The changes Jennings made were relatively minor — he turned off certain fans and bumped the temperature up a couple degrees on those afternoons when CPS Energy called for a reduction. The changes cost him nothing.

CPS Doyle Jennings

At first, church staff was skeptical. They worried about the impact on congregants — would they be uncomfortable?

Then staff saw its first annual refund check.

“They realized it was pretty good income for the church,” said Jennings, who estimated the refund to be about $30,000 for each of the last two years.

Jennings also learned how to tweak his system so it wouldn’t impact those using the building.

That’s been key to convincing local business, industry and building managers to sign up for CPS Energy’s Demand Response program, says Rick Luna, CPS Energy’s manager of demand management and analysis.

“We show businesses ways to reduce demand that won’t hurt the business, or their customers,” he said.

Demand response, or asking certain customers to voluntarily reduce consumption at critical times in exchange for a utility bill credit or rebate, is becoming an important component of electrical grid management, especially as Texas faces ever-hotter summers and a shrinking cushion of excess power.

In general, CPS Energy has plenty of capacity — that is, enough power plants to meet the community’s demand for electricity. But on the very hottest days, demand can peak to levels that require firing up expensive gas “peaker” plants.

Paying certain businesses to cut back for a few critical hours several times a summer costs far less than firing up peaker plants, says Luna.

Demand response is part of CPS Energy’s larger strategy for reducing demand by 771 MW to avoid building another power plant — because the cheapest power by far is the power that isn’t used.

The program began in 2009 and now includes dozens of large and mid-sized companies, including hotels, government buildings, medical facilities, public agencies, churches and office buildings.

Sally Flanagan, senior property manager with Endura Advisory Group, says she’s “extremely pleased” with the rebates she’s earned for making two simple changes to the SWBC Tower building – running fans at half speed and turning off all but emergency lighting in the parking garage.

The changes didn’t cost her a dime, and they didn’t impact tenants, she says.

“We’ve gotten no more ‘hot calls’ than usual” in the three years they’ve been participating, Flanagan said.

Not all of Flanagan’s buildings have achieved such positive results; she’s hoping additional changes will increase success at the San Pedro Plaza building this summer.

Some buildings and businesses are more suited to the program than others, said Luna. The threshold for participation is a 50kw reduction.

Once a business has indicated interest, he said, a demand response curtailment audit is done to determine if that savings can be met.

Bexar County recently received a rebate check for $23,000, said Division Chief Jose Torralva, for reducing power at the Paul Elizondo Tower, the Vista Verde building, the jail and its annex and the juvenile detention center on 17 afternoons last summer.

“It’s just good for the community,” said Torralva.

The success of CPS Energy’s demand response program was highlighted recently by the federal government, which has its own demand response goals.

CEO Doyle Beneby was invited to take part in a discussion this week, hosted by the White House Council on Environmental Quality which brought together leaders from government, the private sector, non-profits and academia that looked at current best practices for reducing peak demand and identified new ways to do so.

Not only do customers save money, Beneby told the panel, but demand response also reduces stress on the utility’s assets, saving on capital costs over time.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, which operates the state’s electrical grid, also uses demand response, although in a slightly different form. Doing so has increased grid reliability, says Paul Wattles, a senior analyst with ERCOT.

“It’s been a very effective tool,” said Wattles.

CPS Energy and other power entities are now working with ERCOT to expand the grid’s ability to use peak demand reduction from an aggregation of customers, much as CPS Energy already does.

Meanwhile, CPS Energy continue to seek new businesses locally to enroll in the program. Those already enrolled, once they get a better understanding of how to save energy and money, tend to seek out additional savings.

The county’s Torralva said this summer it would incorporate energy saving measures even in buildings that aren’t part of the program, because they’re proven to save money without impacting comfort.

Jennings, of Oak Hills Church recently upgraded the lighting in the dozens of required EXIT signs on the church campus as part of a larger lighting retrofit.

By replacing two 7-watt incandescent bulbs with one half-watt LED in about 60 signs, which by law must remain illuminated 24/7, Jennings calculated the church would save more than $13,000 over 20 years.

Oak Hills Church plant engineer Doyle Jennings calculated a $13,000 savings over 20 years just replacing incandescent bulbs with LEDs in the church EXIT signs.

“That doesn’t include factoring in the longer life of the LED lights or labor,” he said. “I couldn’t believe it when I calculated it.”

Read CPS Energy Blog

Government Affairs Council Update

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABy Rob Killen, Kaufman Killen
Government Affairs Council Chair

The Government Affairs Council is an advocate for North Chamber member businesses, working with local and state elected officials on public policy and legislative issues that impact our economy and quality of life. The Government Affairs Council hosts monthly meetings with local officials, annual lunches with both the Bexar County Judge and San Antonio Mayor, coordinates legislative initiatives and presents North Chamber positions to elected officials. There are a variety of opportunities for members to participate and contribute.

Monthly Meetings
We meet at 8:00 a.m. at the North Chamber offices on the first Tuesday of most months to hear presentations on specific topics from local officials. In February the topic was growth and annexation with guests Councilman Ray Lopez and City Planning Director John Dugan. In March the topic was economic development incentives with guests, David Marquez, Bexar County Economic Development Executive Director, and Rene Dominguez, City Economic Development Director. On April 2, the topic will be transportation, with guests Councilman Reed Williams and Commissioner Kevin Wolff.
Join the Committee

SAWS Rate Increase
On January 22, 2013, the North Chamber Board of Directors adopted a position on the proposed SAWS rate increase based on an extensive review and recommendation by a Government Affairs sub-committee. The sub-committee, composed of a number of technical experts, met with SAWS leadership and analyzed the details of the proposed rate increase and infrastructure needs. The North Chamber Board position was in support of the current proposed rate increase, but only if there is sufficient oversight, transparency and a review of operational efficiencies.

On February 7, 2013 the City Council approved an 8.4% rate increase by a vote of 8 to 3, and incorporated language related to operational efficiencies:

The SAWS Board of Trustees is directed to consider conducting a review for operational efficiencies, preparing an organizational assessment, and developing a program to identify organizational efficiencies and cost saving measures …

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State of the County & Mayor’s Vision
Every year we invite both the County Judge and the San Antonio Mayor to address the North Chamber and give us an update on current and proposed initiatives. On May 24, 2013, County Judge Nelson Wolff will present his annual State of the County Address over lunch at the Omni Hotel. On August 20, 2013, Mayor Julian Castro will share his thoughts with us at the Mayor’s Vision for San Antonio lunch at Oak Hills Country Club. Register Online

If you would like more information on any of our programs, please contact Government Affairs Council Chair Rob Killen at rob@kk-lawfirm.com.

Pilot meter program part of larger effort to modernize aging electrical grid

Last year, CPS Energy installed 40,000 automated digital meters in a handful of neighborhoods around the city as part of a pilot program to make sure they work accurately and reliably before the utility installs the new meters system-wide by the end of 2016. CPS Energy is now in the final stages of selecting a vendor for the new meters. Once that process is complete, it will begin rolling them out to all customers.

As that process moves forward, the CPS Energy blog will address concerns about perceived privacy, accuracy and health issues, as well as costs, customer benefits and other areas in which our customers express interest. In the coming weeks, the CPS Energy blog will post stories that delve into each issue. We’ll talk to experts, advocates and detractors, and look at the latest science has to offer.

Here’s a link to our first story about the importance of building a modern grid.

San Antonio’s 1942 gamble to buy CPS Energy keeps paying dividends

by Tracy Idell Hamilton

In 1942, the city of San Antonio made a $34 million bet to buy the local utility – one that has paid off to the tune of more than $5 billion so far.

More than 50 years later, the city made another crucial calculation, to hang on to CPS Energy in the face of a deregulated energy market. That decision, too, has paid off for city and ratepayers, who continue to enjoy some of the lowest rates in Texas.

First, the bet: at the time, the San Antonio Public Service Company, known as Sapsco, ran the city’s power plants, gas network, and streetcar lines.  Sapsco was owned by American Light and Traction Co. through the 1920s and 1930s, but antitrust laws forced the company to divest its utility holdings across the country.

The Lower Colorado River Authority approached then-Mayor C.K. Quinn about breaking up the utility; LCRA would buy the power plants, while the city would purchase the distribution network — the lines and poles.

Quinn was amenable to the idea, according to CPS Energy’s de facto historian Joe Fulton, who worked for the utility for 34 years. But a local entrepreneur, Ralph Morrison, approached the mayor and City Commissioners with a better idea: buy it all.

City leaders ultimately saw the wisdom in San Antonio controlling its own power, and made a bid to buy the company. But the LCRA and the Blanco-Guadalupe River Authority fought back. Lawsuits “came thick and fast,” according to an Oct. 20, 1942 article in the San Antonio Express, and it looked for a time like there would be no deal.

But on Oct. 24, 1942, the last day possible, the city of San Antonio prevailed. It issued $33.9 million in bonds to purchase Sapsco. As part of the deal, the city had to sell a plant on the Comal River to the GBRA. It also sold off the streetcar division of the company.

Also as part of the deal, the new company, known as the City Public Service Board, would return up to 14 percent of revenue to the city of San Antonio as the return on its investment. That money would go into the general fund, where it’s used to fund police and firefighters, roads, drainage and other core city services.

Since 1942, CPS Energy has returned more than $5 billion to its owners, the people of San Antonio. Today that money — roughly $250 million annually — is the city’s largest single revenue stream, and makes up almost one-third of the city’s general fund budget.

In the mid-1990s, however, big changes to the industry were looming. States across the country were deregulating their energy markets; city and CPS Energy officials knew Texas wouldn’t be far behind.

The state Legislature tried to deregulate in 1997, but couldn’t come to an agreement that pleased either privately owned or municipally owned utilities, Fulton said.

“But we saw the writing on the wall,” he said, and CPS Energy began preparing to enter a competitive market, if necessary. That would mean the end of tax-exempt financing, and the need to separate transmission and generation into separate companies. CPS Energy officials also worked “to get leaner and meaner,” said Fulton, reducing staff and updating business practices.

Also in 1997, the City Council conducted a review into whether selling CPS Energy to a private company, paying off the debt and putting the remainder in a trust would be a wise course of action, according to a 1999 story in the San Antonio Express-News.

The study found the city would have to get $16 billion for the utility to “reap the same benefits under the current structure.” The last utility to fetch that kind of price, the story went on, was four times the size of CPS Energy.

The city chose to hang on to its utility.

CPS Energy customers still have some of the lowest rates in the state, and the city is able to pay for vital, basic services with the continuing return on the investment it made in 1942.

“That is a humungous return,” said Fulton. “That’s how important this company is.”

Watch CPS Energy’s 70th anniversary video, featuring an interview with Joe Fulton.