The History of CPS Energy
Gas lights first illuminated San Antonio more than 145 years ago, when entrepreneur S. R. Dickson began to manufacture gas and distribute it from a plant on Houston Street. In less than a decade, electric lights would begin to replace the gas lamps that had lit downtown streets since 1860. The city's first light bulb, in front of the post office in Alamo Plaza, brought San Antonio into the modern era six months before Thomas Edison opened his first New York City generating plant.
By 1917, the tangle of competing gas and electric companies that marked San Antonio's entry into the electric age had coalesced into the San Antonio Public Service Company (SAPSCo), under the ownership of the American Light and Traction Co. Throughout the '20s and '30s, SAPSCo ran the city's power plants, gas network, and streetcar lines.
In the early 1940s, antitrust law caught up with the American Light and Traction Co., forcing it to sell many of its utility holdings across the country. SAPSCo became one of the companies up for sale, and after a fierce bidding war, the City of San Antonio bought the company in 1942. The city purchased SAPSCo for $34 million, financed by bonds to spare taxpayers the expense. The city sold the old company's public transportation division, and what remained became the City Public Service Board of San Antonio.
By December 1943, more than 25 percent of CPS Energy employees had temporarily left the company to fight in World War II. The company soldiered on, helping the city stage blackouts to prepare for the possibility of hostile bombing raids. As demand for electricity and gas continued to grow citywide, CPS Energy took steps to protect its valuable employees, implementing a companywide safety program and affordable health and life insurance.
The end of World War II brought unprecedented levels of prosperity to San Antonio and the entire nation. With new construction techniques making widespread home ownership affordable, CPS Energy crews found themselves working overtime to install record numbers of gas and electric hookups. The utility had already lowered gas rates in 1944, and proceeded to simplify electric rates in 1948, encouraging new customers and saving ratepayers a combined $420,000.
Air conditioning achieved widespread use among San Antonians in 1949. Increased demand for electricity spurred CPS Energy to build its first new power plant since the days of SAPSCo., the Leon Creek plant, that same year. By 1950, the company's monthly revenues broke $1 million. The following year, the city refinanced the bonds with which it had purchased CPS Energy, freeing up more cash to build new power plants and sustain the city's growth.
The company built another new power plant in 1954, dedicating it months later in memory of William B. Tuttle, the utility's first general manager, who had died earlier that year. In 1955, CPS Energy introduced customer service by phone, attracting more than six and a half thousand calls in the first month alone. CPS Energy installed the downtown area's new streetlight system, a $750,000 project involving 640 miles of cable, in 1957. And 1959 saw the completion of the Villita Assembly Building on the former site of the original SAPSCo. generating plant.
In lieu of paying city taxes, CPS Energy began to increase the portion of its revenues returned directly to the city's budget. By 1960, the company paid 14 percent of its revenues to the city. Today, that contribution provides more than 25 percent of the city's annual budget. Since 1942, CPS Energy has provided $2.86 billion in revenue to the City of San Antonio.
Throughout the 1960s, CPS Energy contributed infrastructure and power to many of San Antonio's most famous attractions. In 1964, we installed lighting and built transmission lines for the newly opened Natural Bridge Caverns. Four years later, we donated $1.2 million in engineering for HemisFair '68 -- the World’s Fair exposition, contributing to the construction of the Tower of the Americas, the Institute for Texan Cultures, and other local landmarks.
Even as we helped reshape San Antonio's skyline, CPS Energy has continued to build a foundation for its own future. The V.H. Braunig power plant opened in 1966, breaking ground in water conservation efforts by using treated wastewater, instead of drinking water from the aquifer, to cool its boilers. At the end of the decade, CPS Energy began filling a manmade Calaveras Lake, which became both a popular fishing and picnic spot and the site of many future power plants.
Engineering innovations supported the decade's fast-paced construction. CPS Energy crews began laying gas and electrical lines simultaneously, a process known as "joint trenching," which saved time, money, and wear on equipment. We also entered the computer age in 1966 with our first mainframe computer. Over the next few years, engineers used the computer and its successors to map out the city's growing power system and implement new mathematical models to predict demand.
Perhaps most importantly, we took further steps toward a diversified workforce in the 1960s. Three years before the 1964 passage of the Civil Rights Act, the utility launched a program to find and recruit gifted graduates from colleges with minority enrollment.
The energy crisis of the 1970s hit San Antonio hard. CPS Energy had opened the new gas-fired O.W. Sommers power plant a year before the crisis began in 1973. The utility suddenly found itself embroiled in lawsuits against its energy suppliers and began to redesign future plants to run on less expensive coal.
Despite efforts to secure low-cost fuel supplies, the crisis forced the company to raise its rates for the first time in more than a decade. The utility responded by stepping up conservation efforts at its plants and among its customers, working with other Texas utilities on a jointly owned nuclear power project (today known as the South Texas Project), and opening the J.T. Deely coal-fired plant in 1977. Thanks to the vast gap between coal and gas prices at the time, the Deely plant saved ratepayers $125,000 in fuel costs.
CPS Energy's technical advances during the '70s kept it at the forefront of the industry. The Gas and Electric Operations Center, the first of its kind in the nation, opened in 1972. The GEO center allowed technicians centralized, computerized control of the entire gas and electric network. We also connected our high-voltage lines to Texas' power grid in 1975, allowing the purchase, sale and transport of electricity to and from cities across the entire state.
As the energy crisis subsided, CPS Energy took steps to diversify its energy sources and shore up its distribution network. The 1980s saw the opening of the Hill Country switching station, which further prepared our network to receive power from other utilities, and the North Gate Pipeline, which, for the first time allowed us to accept gas from more than one competing supplier. In 1988, San Antonio and other Texas cities began receiving power from the South Texas Project nuclear plant, now hailed as one of the safest, cleanest and most efficient nuclear plants in the country.
We took further steps to embrace new technology in the 1980s. Meter readers traded in paper cards for handheld computers, while telephone service now included special equipment to communicate with hearing-impaired customers.
Once again, CPS Energy played a vital role in San Antonio's continuing expansion. The utility contributed lighting for Pope John Paul II's 1987 visit, and provided electrical infrastructure to Sea World, Rivercenter Mall, and new high-rise construction throughout the downtown area.
We also increased our community contributions on a human scale. The 1984 introduction of Project WARM kicked off fundraising efforts to help families in need pay higher utility bills during the winter. In 1989, we founded Volunteers in Public Service (VIPS), marshalling dedicated employees to volunteer their time for charitable purposes across San Antonio.
Throughout the 1990s and into the new millennium, we expanded our dedication to environmentally-friendly practices. The J.K. Spruce coal-fired power plant opened in 1992, built with more than $100 million worth of environmental regulation systems. Two years later, we responded to newly-toughened EPA standards by adding continuous emissions monitoring systems to each of our operating plants.
In 2000, we began asking customers to buy into a clean, wind-generated supply of electricity from wind farms across Texas. We later opened the super-efficient Arthur Von Rosenberg coal plant and continued our investment in state-of-the-art emissions controls at new and existing power plants. We also committed millions of dollars to energy efficiency programs for residential and commercial customers through rebate incentives.
The San Antonio metropolitan area continued to grow. In 2010, another coal-fired plant -- J.K. Spruce 2 – began operation with more than $250 million of the best available emissions-control equipment. At the same time, we continued to look to renewable energy to complement our diverse portfolio of fuels. Today, we have more than 850 megawatts of wind-generated electricity in commercial operation. We also have committed to solar energy, with 45 megawatts of sun power online and another 400 megawatts on the horizon through a landmark agreement with OCI Solar Power – the largest municipal solar project in the nation the boasts jobs and other economic development benefits for San Antonio.
CPS Energy continues to look at opportunities to provide affordable power. Through Casa Verde SA, thousands of eligible homeowners are being provided with weatherization upgrades designed to reduce their energy use and lower their bills. In 2012, we acquired the Rio Nogales natural gas plant in Seguin, Texas, making CPS Energy one of the first utilities in the nation to make a proactive transition from older coal-fired power to cleaner, natural gas-fired power. The plant also supports our strategy of diversification and risk management. CPS Energy customers also will continue to benefit from a generation portfolio that is heavily weighted in low-cost, cleaner traditional resources.
Throughout its history, CPS Energy has demonstrated a commitment to the people we serve. Reliable, affordable and clean energy remain our top priorities as we move into an even brighter future.