Commentary: CPS Energy is ditching coal, but now what?
By DeeDee Belmares
This op-ed first appeared in the San Antonio Express-News. Read it online here.
Jan. 23 was not the best day for protecting San Antonians from pollution, but it was a good day. On that day, the CPS Energy board of trustees voted 4-1 for a future generation plan that will end the utility’s burning of coal to generate electricity by 2028.
The vote was a victory. The J.K. Spruce plant, the only remaining coal plant in the CPS Energy portfolio, has been a scourge. It has sat on our city’s South Side for decades and is the most significant source of pollution in San Antonio.
While this vote was welcome news, it was not the end of a reliance on fossil fuels. This fight was always going to be a marathon, and those of us who want a clean energy future have miles to go.
The downside of the approved generation plan is that it keeps our city tied to fossil fuels. The plan, called Portfolio 2, will shut down one coal-burning unit, Spruce 1, while converting the other one, Spruce 2, to use fracked natural gas until 2065. That is at least another 40 years of fossil fuel pollution, starting when the gas is fracked and burned at Spruce every day.
In 2019, the San Antonio City Council approved a Climate Action and Adaptation Plan, known as CAAP. By CPS Energy’s acknowledgment, the CAAP’s goal of carbon neutrality by 2050 is impossible to reach if Spruce burns fracked gas for another four decades.
Yes, the campaign to #ShutDownSpruce will succeed, but with an asterisk representing the tons of methane emissions Spruce will generate.
San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg, who also sits on the CPS Energy board, expressed a willingness to revisit the generation plan in the coming years. It was a welcome statement, even if Nirenberg voted in favor of Portfolio 2 instead of Portfolio 9, which placed a greater emphasis on renewable energy sources and would have shut down gas usage by 2035, putting us on track to meet all of the CAAP goals.
Those of us who have spent years advocating against burning coal and for the closure of Spruce are more than willing to examine alternatives to gas, including battery storage and adding more renewable sources, such as wind and solar, to meet our energy needs.
We must continue to explore distributed energy resources such as rooftop solar and battery storage. Weatherization and energy efficiency programs such as CPS Energy’s STEP — Sustainable Tomorrow Energy Plan — reduce energy demand and save customers money on their bills. These programs make our grid more resilient and help the utility avoid building more gas infrastructure.
Two years ago, I wrote another guest column for this paper cautioning against half-measures to close Spruce. Trading one polluting fossil fuel for another is a half-measure.
We must continue to work toward a fossil fuel-free future that protects the climate and provides us with cleaner air. The CPS Energy vote gets us only part of the way. Bold action will take us to the finish line.
The Spruce vote was a good day. The very best day will be years from now when someone throws the switch and puts an end to burning coal and gas in San Antonio.
DeeDee Belmares is a CPS Energy Rate Advisory Committee member and the San Antonio climate justice organizer for Public Citizen’s Texas office.