Four months ago, a coalition of grassroots groups and community organizations named Recall CPS launched a petition drive to get a charter amendment on San Antonio’s May Municipal ballot.
This ballot measure, if it had been approved by voters, would have brought much needed reforms to CPS Energy, including transparency, accountability, and increased public participation. The charter amendment would have made CPS Energy a city department with the council taking the place of the board of trustees and would have created a citizen advisory committee that would work with the utility to create a fair rate structure for customers. Finally, the charter amendment’s goal was to create a pathway for CPS Energy to finally close its polluting Spruce Coal Plant, located on the Southside of San Antonio, by 2030. In order for the petition to be placed on the ballot, the Recall CPS coalition needed to collect at least 20,000 signatures from registered San Antonio voters.
Petitioning during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic proved daunting as coalition members endeavoured to safeguard the health and safety of volunteers, workers, and signers. Petitioners worked hard and spoke to thousands of CPS Energy customers and voters who want to hold the utility accountable and bring meaningful reforms to it. On Nov. 12th, CPS Energy took legal action to prevent the petition from moving forward even though our right to petition is granted under state law.
With this arcane, opaque legal maneuver, CPS Energy made it impossible for the thousands of voters who signed the petition to have a democratic say in their utility. The people who signed the petition want a fair rate structure and an end to a polluting coal plant that is not only exacerbating the climate crisis but damaging our health. By taking this legal action, CPS Energy CEO Paul Gold Williams, her management staff, and Mayor Ron Nirenberg have said to voters that their voices do not matter and that business as usual will continue at the utility.
Fourteen thousand voters signed the Recall CPS petition, and the coalition is continuing to fight for them. Last year, due to the economic strain of the pandemic, CPS Energy put a moratorium on electricity disconnections and waived late fees for customers. Recently though, Paula Gold-Williams said the moratorium on electricity shut-offs will eventually come to an end. Even though COVID-19 vaccinations have started, a long road to recovery lies ahead of us. People will continue to struggle financially as families attempt to recover from the pandemic. Ending the moratorium will add to the economic distress many families are facing.
Paula Gold-Williams has also stated that a rate hike could be on the horizon for customers this year. Any rate hike that CPS Energy requests will have to go before city council for consideration and approval. Rate structure and any possible rate increase must include robust public participation and planning with CPS Energy and city council. The coalition is working to achieve exactly those goals—giving the ratepayers a strong say in the utility’s financial decisions that affect working-class families.
Lastly, the city’s reliance on the Spruce Coal Plant must come to an end. The petition drive sought to close the plant by 2030, but CPS Energy insists on burning dirty coal well past that time. They know that their coal pollution is pushing the planet off a climate cliff and making people sick. All around the country – and in other places in Texas – cities are realizing that using coal no longer makes economic sense, and for that reason they are wisely making plans to shut down their plants. CPS Energy, the mayor, and city council should want the same for our community, and we can achieve that goal with