7 Questions for a Sustainability Professional:
Angela Rodriguez, CPS Energy

by Tiara Chapman

View down the San Antonio Riverwalk Photo: Adobe Stock

It takes a village to raise the bar on sustainability. CPS Energy is making great strides to help the San Antonio community achieve its 2050 goal of net zero carbon emissions by ensuring their neighbors are all in for energy conservation!  

Texan by Nature’s network of business members is essential to achieving our mission of advancing conservation, and the sustainability professionals in these organizations are important allies in connecting industry with conservation.

Meet Angela Rodriguez, the Managing Principal of Sustainability & Grants at CPS Energy, a 2023 TxN 20 Honoree, is transforming the utility’s approach to sustainability by doubling down on public outreach. Read more below about her work to engage local residents in energy conservation and move the city forward in achieving large-scale sustainability success!

Pictured Angela Rodriguez the Managing Principal of Sustainability & Grants at CPS Energy. Photo Courtesy of Angela Rodriguez

Angela Rodriguez, the Managing Principal of Sustainability & Grants at CPS Energy

How would you explain the importance of ESG strategy to someone who wasn’t familiar with it?

The E stands for Environmental, the S stands for Social and the G stands for Governance, but for decades before it got a clever acronym, in the municipal utility industry we simply called it “being a good community member.” An ESG strategy includes all of the things that make you a good community member, such as keeping environmental responsibility top of mind, including reducing air emissions, saving water, and recycling. The social part includes our volunteer work, from delivering meals to seniors or block walking to spread the word about our programs that help customers pay their bills. Community input is a necessary part of our governance. All of these buckets play a role in creating a long-term strategy to serve our customers with reliable, affordable, and environmentally responsible power.

When planning environmental sustainability targets, what do you use as a guide to set these goals and commitments?

We analyze local and federal policies and make sure our strategies and metrics align. Plus, we are part of industry groups such as the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), where we benchmark against our utility peers to learn and share best practices. At a local level, our owner, the City of San Antonio, adopted a Climate Action & Adaptation Plan (CAAP) in 2019. That plan calls for our community as a whole to be net zero carbon by 2050, showing a 41% reduction by 2030 from 2016 levels and a 71% reduction by 2040. Our CPS Energy Board committed to the CAAP targets and we use them along with a broad range of customer/stakeholder input.

CPS Energy representative speaking to the public during one of their Open House community events. Photo: CPS Energy

CPS Energy representative speaking to the public during one of their Open House community events. Photo: CPS Energy

A great example of community input in action was the development of our Vision 2027 Power Generation Resource Plan. We used the CAAP carbon goals as metrics, along with other factors such as flexibility and affordability. After about 18 months of community engagement work, our Board approved a plan that moves away from coal while adding lower-emitting gas along with renewables and storage to balance emissions reductions, reliability, climate resiliency, and affordability.

What is the first step for implementing ESG strategy for a company looking to engage in environmental sustainability for the first time?

One fun way is by going to similar companies’ websites and searching for their ESG Report, which is often called a Sustainability Report or Community Impact Report. Different companies call them different things, but they all contain similar types of ESG information. It is very cool to see all of the ways companies are supporting their community. Some reports have graphical representations, photos, or narratives in addition to metrics. Look for examples of stories or charts you think your customers would find valuable and start an outline of items you would want to see in your own ESG strategy. If you are a business, such as a community-owned utility, one first step is setting up a process where the community you serve can give input. In our local community, on top of the City’s Climate Action & Adaptation Plan, some businesses and entities also use the United Nations’ Sustainability Development Goals as an easy way to view sustainability and start weaving it throughout strategies, metrics, and goals.

In 2023, what was your most interesting lesson learned in your work as a sustainability professional?

That we have to do better at communicating that sustainability and economic development go hand in hand. People often think sustainability initiatives will only cost a company money and not make any. However, sustainability strategies and economic development strategies have similar goals viewed from different perspectives. I usually think about things through the environmental responsibility lens, but showing the financial benefits of a strategy is often what can get it over the finish line. 

What component of working in environmental sustainability is your favorite and why?

I was an Air Compliance and Permitting professional for a decade and enjoy getting nerdy about carbon emission reductions. I love talking about how our carbon intensity has decreased since 1980 while simultaneously our power generation has increased. Recently, we have started doing more with TREES! Trees help offset carbon, reduce urban heat island impact, clean the air, reduce stormwater runoff, make the city more beautiful, and more. I could go on and on about the benefits of trees.

“We give away 1,200 trees so San Antonians can do their part in making our environment healthier. Our team of employees distributes 1-gallon trees, tree guides, and supply bags at the event every year.” – Angela Rodriguez

A CPS Energy outreach table giving away tote bags containing native tree saplings at a community event. Photo: CPS Energy

A CPS Energy outreach table giving away tote bags containing native tree saplings at a community event. Photo: CPS Energy

From the eyes of an environmental sustainability professional, what makes a conservation project stand out? What can conservation projects do to make it easier to partner with them?

Conservation projects really stand out when their benefits can speak to a broad range of stakeholders in your local community. Take for example coordinating a tree-planting project for your local park. You can attract people who care about health by communicating the health benefits and then attract the economic development community by speaking on its impact to the local economy. We do this for our Green Shade Tree rebate program, highlighting the benefits of planting a tree in the right spot to reduce air conditioning use therefore saving money on your bill.
In addition to using the term “conservation” to help protect resources such as land and water, we also use the term “conservation” to speak about our energy efficiency and energy conservation program. Our Sustainable Tomorrow Energy Plan (STEP) helps customers reduce air emissions and save money. When trying to attract partners, be sure to always highlight both the economic and environmental benefits of projects.

The Sustainable Tomorrow Energy Plan (STEP) program aims to reduce our community’s energy demand by 410 megawatts by 2027. Additionally, the program will weatherize 16,000 homes and 20,000 multifamily units, resulting in a 1% energy savings per year, ~2M tons of avoided Carbon Dioxide (CO2), and avoidance of approximately ~140 tons of Nitrogen Oxide (NOx), an ozone precursor, over the life of the program.

What sustainability goal are you most looking forward to working on in 2024?

At CPS Energy, we are developing products and services that help our customers meet their own Net Zero goals. As we engage with customers we find that many of them have sustainability targets that are more aspirational than the City’s Net Zero by 2050 goal. Some business and non-profit customers want to be Net Zero as early as 2030 or 2035. When you are the energy provider, your own Scope 1 power plant emissions become your customer’s Scope 2 emissions or emissions that come from using power in their businesses.

As the local electric and gas provider, we can help them achieve their goals by offering renewable, energy storage, resiliency, and energy efficiency programs. We have local businesses and corporations with global goals as well. It is really fun engaging with Sustainability Professionals from other industries, hearing what their goals are, and then collaborating on how to achieve them. Working together helps benefit our entire community and everyone we serve.

Texan by Nature’s vision is for every business and every Texan to participate in conservation and for Texas to be a model of collaborative conservation for the world.

We’re grateful to Angela and the many sustainability professionals and companies who are future-proofing their businesses and our state. Their operational innovations and conservation investments advance environmental sustainability in their sectors and provide successful models for the world to follow.

Learn more about the annual
TxN 20 program, which recognizes leadership in environmental sustainability in industry, by visiting the TxN 20 website, and keep an eye out for more insight from other sustainability professionals to come.

About Angela

Angela Rodriguez is the Managing Principal of Sustainability & Grants at CPS Energy and has been in that role since early 2018. She started in CPS Energy’s Environmental Planning, Compliance & Sustainability department in May 2007 and led the Air Permitting and Compliance section for 10 years. Her team works across the company to ensure initiatives are aligned with climate & sustainability goals at a local, state, and federal level. Her team attends various community events to present on and gather public feedback on CPS Energy’s path to Net Zero. Her team is also responsible for looking for ways to reduce costs to customers by taking advantage of federal grant money. Angela serves as the CPS Energy representative on the City
of San Antonio’s Climate Action and Adaptation Plan Committee. She represents CPS Energy on various community and industry groups that have an environmental focus such as the Alamo Area Council of Governments and Large Public Power Council Environmental Task Force. She has a B.S. in Chemical Engineering from Texas A&M in Kingsville. Prior to working for CPS Energy, Angela worked for Luminant/TXU, the utility company in the Dallas Fort Worth area, as a gas-fired Power Plant Engineer and Environmental Coordinator doing air, water, and waste compliance. She also worked as a Chemistry Lab Supervisor at TXU’s Comanche Peak Nuclear Power Station. She enjoys volunteering for various events that help our youth learn about STEM careers, particularly in sustainability and protecting our environment. In her spare time, she enjoys volunteering for dog and cat rescues and walking her dogs and foster puppies on the beautiful San Antonio linear park system trails.