CPS Energy representatives confirmed Tuesday night that President and CEO Doyle Beneby is resigning his position effective Sept. 30, but what is next for the executive who shook up the San Antonio utility and put it on an aggressive path to pursuing renewable energy generation remains unknown.
“I describe this announcement as bittersweet because although I am excited about what my future holds, I’m also wistful about leaving the best job that I have ever had in my career, here with you at CPS Energy,” stated Beneby in a letter to CPS Energy employees Tuesday evening.
The announcement does not come as a complete surprise. After months of considering his compensation package amid reports that he was being recruited to leave San Antonio in April, the board voted unanimously to raise his base salary in an attempt to bring his total compensation more in line with his peers across the country. Yet months went by without any announcement that Beneby had signed his new contract or an extension.
Speaking to reporters on a Wednesday morning conference call, Beneby declined to reveal where he will be working next. He did say he would likely “focus on some aspect of renewable energy. … I have a distinct passion (for) introducing renewable technologies in a way that’s able to benefit communities and bring optionality to customers (as well as) impact the amount of pollutants in the air.”
Beneby’s carefully worded statement left unclear whether he has accepted another offer in the energy industry, or whether there will be additional information released about his plans before his Sept. 30 departure.
Beneby was hired in 2010 to lead CPS Energy, one of the largest publicly-owned utilities in the nation amid a political furor over the hidden cost of expanding the utility’s ownership of the South Texas Plant nuclear facility. That expansion was canceled, and plans to spend hundreds of millions of dollars in upgrades to a coal-fired plant also were shelved. Beneby reallocated the capital to fund CPS Energy investments in solar, wind and new energy-saving technology initiatives.
Trustees presumably will seek an industry executive to replace Beneby who will continue his so-called New Energy Economy initiative that married significant investments in renewables with recruitment of supplier companies to establish operations and create jobs in San Antonio.
Beneby said Korn Ferry International, a recruiting firm, will conduct a national search for his replacement, and that CPS Energy will continue with plans to either build a new downtown headquarters, buy an existing property to relocate or renovate its current buildings. Commercial real estate sources say Beneby seemed to be leaning toward a newly constructed headquarters rather than purchasing the former AT&T towers on McCullough Avenue or renovating its existing buildings on Navarro Street.
The speculation about a new headquarters for CPS Energy has been the subject of speculation now for more than two years. Beneby’s planned departure will probably lead to further delays in any decision.
Beneby said other projects, including solar leasing and community solar pilot programs, the planned closure of the Deely coal plant by 2018, and the opening of the EPIcenter on the Mission Reach of the San Antonio River, all remain on track.
“I’ve had discussions with our board,” he said of the search for a new CEO, confident that members will be looking for someone who shares CPS Energy’s prioritization of solar and conservation initiatives. “They’re supportive of the direction we’re headed … whoever the future leader (is will) continue broadly in that direction.”
In the case of its new headquarters, Beneby has long emphasized the importance of maintaining the energy utility’s presence downtown and has been working with Chicago-based commercial real estate consulting firm DTZ. That firm has filed suit to challenge an Attorney general’s opinion in support of an open records request made by the San Antonio Business Journal to obtain the terms of that contract. A CPS Energy spokesperson stated on Wednesday that the utility has “no position on releasing the contract.”
According to the San Antonio Business Journal, DTZ is arguing that “releasing the information could cause the company ‘substantial competitive harm’ and that exemptions in the Texas Open Records Act for commercial and financial information are applicable.”
DTZ is not opposed to releasing how much already has been paid, but the contract would reveal how much the company stands to gain, percentage-wise, if and when a real estate deal is finalized.
Arguably the most ambitious initiative started while Beneby was at the helm is CPS Energy’s New Energy Economy initiative which launched in 2011, less than one year after his arrival. The initiative calls for CPS Energy to 1) generate 20% of its grid capacity with zero- or low-carbon emitting renewable resource plants by 2020, 2) leverage clean energy and innovative technologies for job creation and education investment, 3) reduce emissions by an amount equivalent to taking almost 1.5 million cars off the road, and 4) fuel and inspire investment in education programs.
Beneby was also at the forefront of the launch of EPIcenter, an interactive energy education and technological innovation center on the Mission Reach.
“This New Energy Economy, the big concept (of it), is to transition this community to leverage our push towards renewable and low carbon-intense technologies along with commerce and building our community,” he said in May. “(The EPIcenter) is unique in its focus in creating thought and action around the research and development of new and emerging technologies.”
The EPIcenter board and nonprofit, which has not yet been officially announced, will be tasked with raising funds for and completing the multi-million dollar project. An executive director will be in place by the end of the year, Beneby said Wednesday.
Beneby’s departure will come as no surprise to civic and business leaders, but he will be missed when gone and recognized for providing anew level of vision and leadership for CPS Energy. At the same time, the longtime energy executive who came from the private sector side of the industry, never seemed comfortable with the politics of operating a municipal utility that answered to both a board of trustees chosen by geography rather than expertise, and City Council, which has the last word on rate increases and other major initiatives. Beneby was the highest paid public sector executive in South Texas, yet he continued to earn far less than his counterparts in the merchant utility sector. His compensation was the frequent topic of an often divisive public debate.
“Doyle has done an outstanding job for CPS Energy and our community. He is a high achiever and great leader, everything the Board hoped for. He’s been instrumental in developing an innovative, forward-thinking strategy that positioned the company and San Antonio as a leader in clean energy technology, all while focusing on our customers through low rates, best in class electric reliability, and accessibility to energy options, ” stated Board Chair Nora Chavez.
“I know I speak for the entire Board when I say he will be missed. We wish him and his family all the best. It’s now up to us, as a Board, to look to the future and find the right person to lead CPS Energy. That process is underway and we’re looking forward to interviewing candidates in the not too distant future.”
Mayor Ivy Taylor released the following statement on Beneby’s departure:
“It has been my pleasure working with Doyle during his time at CPS Energy, and I am extremely proud of what have accomplished in San Antonio during his tenure. He led CPS Energy through a difficult time and has accomplished so much, from improving operational efficiencies to building community trust. As a corporate leader he has positively impacted economic development and contributed to educational causes in San Antonio, particularly the My Brother’s Keeper initiative. I wish Doyle well in his future endeavors, and I’m committed to working with the CPS Energy Board of Trustees to identify a successor who will maintain a strategic focus on affordability and innovation.”
This story has been updated with information gathered from an interview with Doyle Beneby.
*Featured/top image: CPS Energy President and CEO Doyle Beneby. File photo by Scott Ball.