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San Antonio Is Ready for a Future Without Spruce

By DeeDee Belmares

San Antonio’s energy utility, CPS Energy, will decide the fate of its last remaining coal-burning plant in the next few months.

After years of pressure from community members and grassroots groups, and faced with the urgency of the changing climate, the utility is planning for the future of the J.K. Spruce Power Plant and the rest of its power supply.

There are plenty of reasons why San Antonio needs to abandon coal as soon as possible. The harmful impacts of burning coal include air pollution, water pollution, groundwater contamination, and more.

The EPA has designated Bexar County in non-attainment for ozone. This means our air is unhealthy to breathe. Each day CPS Energy burns coal, we further spiral into the climate crisis. Spruce emits 6 million metric tons of carbon pollution annually.

Recently, Environment Texas released the alarming “Wasting Our Waterways” report. It shows that, in San Antonio, “CPS Energy’s Calaveras Power Station,” which is home to Spruce, “ranked 10th in the nation for the toxicity of its reported releases to waterways, as measured by EPA’s toxicity scoring for such pollution.”

Calaveras Lake, located near the Calaveras Power Station and its coal burning Spruce power plant.

According to the report, CPS Energy is dumping chromium into Calaveras Lake, a popular spot for fishing and other recreational activities. Chromium has health impacts, such as congenital disabilities and infertility.

But the information on the dangers CPS Energy’s coal plant poses to water is not new.

A 2019 report from the Environmental Integrity Project found that CPS Energy’s toxic coal ash ponds have leaked heavy metals, such as arsenic, chromium, and the neurotoxin mercury, into the groundwater.

Gas isn’t a viable answer, either.

CPS Energy uses fracked gas for about 46 percent of its power generation. It maintains that it is needed for reliability and is “more environmentally friendly because it produces less carbon and other harmful emissions than coal.”

Natural gas is anything but reliable or affordable. Gas plants went down during Winter Storm Uri and were down during some of the hottest months on record in San Antonio. When Texas was setting record demand for power this past summer, wind and solar power helped reduce strain on the grid.

In a June article, several experts told CNN that the fact that the Texas grid didn’t crash is thanks “in large part to strong performances from wind and solar, which generated 27 gigawatts of electricity during Sunday’s peak demand – close to 40% of the total needed.”

Worse yet, high gas prices are causing utility bills to skyrocket, putting a financial strain on CPS Energy customers.

Simply put, there is a lot of evidence that the utility can’t keep investing in dirty, polluting fossil fuels. CPS Energy must shut down Spruce and ditch burning fossil fuels while it is at it.

So as CPS Energy plans for the future of Spruce, which will come as soon as December of this year, it has an obligation to customers to explore every clean energy alternative to coal and fracked gas.

If you care about air and water pollution, the climate crisis and rising electric bills, take this brief CPS Energy survey and tell the utility that you want a clean energy transition for our city.