CPS Energy mulls future of Bexar County’s top source of pollution

As San Antonio faces more restrictions and costs from the EPA, leaders weigh options for J.K. Spruce coal plant

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SAN ANTONIO – Bexar County’s largest source of pollution is CPS Energy’s J.K. Spruce coal plant, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Located on the Southeast Side near Calaveras Lake, the two-unit plant emitted more than 5.7 million tons of greenhouse gases in 2020, according to the most recently available EPA data.

But the plant also makes up for roughly a quarter of CPS Energy’s power generation.

The facility, one of the last coal power plants built in the United States, has been in the crosshairs of climate and environmental advocates for years.

New restrictions, higher costs

The plant has played a role in Bexar County facing a downgraded ozone designation from the EPA, which would add more restrictions in order to meet the ozone standard of 70 parts per billion by September 2024.

With those restrictions would come increased costs for both the power generator and residents. For instance, Bexar County drivers would be subject to vehicle emissions testing during annual inspections, adding at least $7 and an extra 15 minutes for each inspection.

A virtual hearing is scheduled on the topic on May 9, and the comment period for EPA’s proposal would close on June 13.

A plan for cleaner energy

Mounting pressure on CPS Energy has led agency leaders to explore options to close or modify the J.K. Spruce plant.

San Antonio District 7 City Councilmember Ana Sandoval has joined environmental advocates in calling for changes.

CPS Energy interim CEO Rudy Garza has indicated that the utility may soon close down Spruce 1, which came online in 1992, while Spruce 2 would remain online but undergo renovations to be fueled by natural gas, a cleaner alternative.

But he acknowledged that the balance is a “complex process” as he weighs the emissions with reliability and growth in the area, which would increase the need for power.

“We are committed to doing it in a sustainable manner, but I’ve got to get it reliable and affordable first,” Garza said during a panel with climate and environmental groups last week.

The groups, including the Sierra Club, the Southwest Workers Union and MOVE Texas, pressed Garza about the future of the Spruce plant and asked for more specific plans for a conversion to cleaner energy.

Garza said CPS Energy would look to convert Spruce 1 into a geothermal plant, while also bringing more renewable energy online in other areas to help bolster power generation and keep up with rising demand.

“I don’t know that there’s a case that allows us to get to 100% renewables mainly because it would take us 20 years to build as much renewables as you need to get there,” Garza said.

Garza also said any plan will have implications on the roughly one million CPS Energy customers. The plan estimates at least a $6 spike in ratepayers’ bills.

“We have to be real thoughtful about how we go about this process, because you know, again, the majority of our customers are going to pay one way or the other even if you restructure rates,” Garza said.

CPS Energy’s Board of Trustees will vote on a plan for the coal plant later this year, Garza said.

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