A new member will join the CPS Energy Board of Trustees as the city-owned utility continues to navigate turbulent times amid the fallout from the winter storm and financial troubles stemming from the pandemic.
Francine Romero, associate professor and chair of the public administration department at the University of Texas at San Antonio, will join the board in February after City Council approved her nomination Thursday. She will fill the seat for the Northwest Quadrant, which includes City Council Districts 7 and 8 and portions of Districts 1, 6 and 9.
The City Council’s approval came after a series of questions about whether there’s enough public input and transparency in the appointment process and how CPS Energy plans to reduce emissions and move away from coal power plants.
Three City Council members — Mario Bravo, Jalen McKee-Rodriguez and Teri Castillo — declined to vote on Romero’s appointment after moving to delay the vote to allow time for more public feedback.
Romero made clear she plans to incorporate data and evidence into her decisions as a trustee. She declined to make some commitments without first getting more information and said she would explore the evidence related to closing the Spruce coal-fired power plant.
Romero replaces outgoing trustee Ed Kelley, a former chairman of the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce who was known for bringing a business background to the board but often tussled with environmental activists over how the utility reduces emissions and approaches climate change. Local climate change activists voiced support Thursday for another candidate, Adelita Cantu, an associate professor at UT Health San Antonio. She wasn’t among the four finalists trustees considered, however.
Romero joins the board of trustees in a season of change. A possible rate increase was announced last month, and CPS Energy President and CEO Paula Gold-Williams announced Wednesday she would leave the utility early next year. She led CPS through public frustration over the last year over its handling of the winter freeze in February, which left many without power in cold temperatures.
Rate increase looms over appointment
Extra costs stemming from the winter storm — about $1 billion — are just one reason CPS Energy announced last month it will seek a rate increase, which could raise customers’ bills by 10 to 15 percent.
The utility’s financial pressure also branches from the pandemic, with nearly 1 in 10 CPS customers past due on their electricity and gas bills, adding up to more than $100 million in missing revenue. The city may focus some of its unspent federal COVID-19 relief money on a utility assistance program for customers most at risk of being disconnected.
CPS has also said it needs more revenue for upgrades to its infrastructure and technology systems. The rate increase could go into effect early next year if approved by City Council.
The city and the utility’s response to mitigating the effects of climate change also loomed over Romero’s appointment. Her predecessor, Kelley, was criticized by activists for tiptoeing around the issue of climate change.
Romero took a different view when questioned by Ana Sandoval, who represents District 7.
“Moving toward decarbonization is a given,” Romero told City Council on Thursday. “The question here is when and how we do that.”
In all, 26 people applied to join the CPS Energy Board of Trustees. The board is made up of five citizens, including Mayor Ron Nirenberg, who is charged with keeping the City Council informed of board decisions.
Romero’s term will expire on Jan. 31, 2027.
Contributing: Diego Mendoza-Moyers of the Express-News