Feb 13, 2023 - Business

CPS Energy weatherized 30K homes to lower bills

Illustration of a lightbulb with a house-shaped filament

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Janie Garcia's CPS Energy bill jumped last summer — like many. It was around $400 at her Far West Side home. Then the city-owned utility insulated her home for free to secure it from extreme temperatures, lowering her bills.

Driving the news: CPS Energy has weatherized 30,000 homes like Garcia's through its Casa Verde program since it launched in 2009, according to the utility.

Why it matters: Weatherized homes can lead to lower energy use and cheaper bills. But not everyone can afford to update their home.

  • Weatherization can also help stabilize the statewide energy grid in times of high demand. During recent cold weather spells and last summer's hot temperatures, grid operators asked Texans to conserve to avoid power outages.

Context: Low-income households have an energy burden, defined as the percentage of gross household income spent on energy costs, three times higher than that of wealthier households, per the Office of State and Community Energy Programs.

  • Walls and windows may not be well insulated, letting in hot or cold air — so occupants crank up the air conditioning or heat and spend more.

What they're saying: "We've got so much older housing stock in San Antonio that needs energy efficiency upgrades," CPS president Rudy Garza told reporters Friday.

  • "This is not just helping you lower your bills," District 1 Councilmember Mario Bravo said. "This is contributing to our state having a more stable grid. That's going to help prevent rolling blackouts."

How it works: CPS works with contractors to upgrade customers' homes. The renovations are free for residents who meet income qualifications.

  • Casa Verde is part of CPS Energy's Sustainable Tomorrow Energy Plan, or STEP. About $5 from every customer's bill funds STEP, Jonathan Tijerina, CPS vice president of development, tells Axios.
  • Weatherization can include attic and wall insulation, duct sealing, adding LED lightbulbs and more.

Details: Garcia heard about the program from her cousin, she tells Axios.

  • CPS accepted Garcia's application within a month and the repairs took a couple of weeks, she says. Contractors installed solar panels, insulated her attic and replaced lightbulbs.
  • Garcia, who has owned her home for four years, lives with her daughter and four grandchildren.

By the numbers: Participants in Casa Verde receive an average $4,500 worth of weatherization enhancements, per CPS Energy.

  • They save about $450 a year on energy bills.
  • The utility has spent more than $153 million on Casa Verde since it was established, per a spokesperson.

Flashback: Several City Council members wanted to increase home weatherization efforts last year, using a city budget surplus that stemmed from higher energy bills CPS customers paid.

  • At the time, Mayor Ron Nirenberg worried contractors in the city didn't have the resources to ramp up weatherization.
  • The push to expand it ultimately failed to gain enough votes.

Of note: CPS began weatherizing homes for renters about six months ago, Tijerina says.

What's next: The utility is planning for the program to cover renters in larger multifamily apartment complexes later this year.

  • In the next three to five years, CPS plans to weatherize 16,000 more houses and 20,000 multifamily units, costing about $82.5 million.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with the correct name of CPS Energy's Sustainable Tomorrow Energy Plan.

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