Jan 24, 2023 - Business

CPS Energy will phase out coal, close Spruce plant

Illustration of a piece of coal crumbling.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Before the end of the decade, the electricity powering San Antonio's homes and businesses won't rely on a polluting coal plant. But CPS Energy isn't committing to all renewables just yet.

Driving the news: The city-owned utility's board voted 4-1 yesterday to choose a new portfolio of future energy sources that will shutter the coal-fired J.K. Spruce 1 plant by the end of 2028. CPS will convert the Spruce 2 coal plant to run on natural gas.

  • Trustee John Steen, the business-minded former Texas secretary of state, was the sole no vote.

Why it matters: The city's future power sources will help determine whether San Antonio can meet the city's goal of carbon neutrality by 2050, which officials laid out in the climate action plan adopted in 2019.

  • The energy portfolio that the CPS board approved doesn't move as swiftly toward carbon neutrality as other options would have. It meets the 2030 target, but not the 2040 threshold.

Details: CPS Energy needs to add more power generation capacity to support our region's population growth.

  • The Spruce plant is CPS Energy's largest source of power. The utility has to find energy elsewhere to close it.
  • The board considered nine different portfolios that offered differing mixes of power sources. It rated those plans based on sustainability, affordability, reliability and more.

Yes, but: Environmental activists — while celebrating the end of coal — are concerned the utility's new power plan relies too much on natural gas and not enough renewable energy. Gas is cleaner than coal but still produces harmful emissions.

  • A different portfolio option preferred by some activists would have met the city's emissions targets by 2040 by relying more on wind and solar power.
  • But the inclusion of too much green energy comes with risks, per CPS Energy documents. During extreme weather, renewable sources might not be as available and could come with a higher price tag, estimates show.

What they're saying: "This is good and bad from an environmental perspective," Alan Montemayor, chairman of the Alamo Group of the Sierra Club, tells Axios.

  • He worries that natural gas will cost CPS and its customers more in the future, on top of continuing to produce greenhouse gas emissions. But he recognizes natural gas can be more reliable.
  • "This path will accelerate our progress toward carbon neutrality by shifting permanently away from coal," Mayor Ron Nirenberg, who also sits on the CPS board, said in a statement.

Of note: In the city's climate action plan, leaders initially said CPS should retire coal plants by 2025.

By the numbers: Coal makes up about 19% of CPS Energy's power generation now, per the utility's portfolio. That's down from 30% in 2010.

  • Gas accounts for 46% of the utility's power.
  • Renewables are 21% and nuclear power is 14% of our energy.

The bottom line: Ending the use of coal as a power source in San Antonio is a victory, Montemayor said, and will lead to cleaner air and far fewer emissions in our future.


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