CPS Energy Spruce units.
CPS Energy's Calaveras Power Station includes the J.K. Spruce coal plant. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

The Supreme Court’s ruling last week that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency does not have the authority to mandate carbon emission reductions from power plants will not extend the life of CPS Energy’s coal plant, utility officials said this week.

Nor will it change other local plans to reduce carbon emissions, according to the agency tasked with monitoring the region’s air quality.

Last Thursday, the court ruled in a 6-3 decision that the Clean Air Act does not give the EPA the authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel power plants such as CPS Energy’s J.K. Spruce coal plant or its O.W. Sommers gas-fired units.

While the ruling limits how the EPA will be allowed to regulate greenhouse gases moving forward, it will not change the fact that the EPA will soon reclassify San Antonio from marginal to moderate ozone nonattainment, which will bring with it additional regulations.

A CPS Energy spokeswoman said the utility still plans to shutter Spruce by 2030, and the ruling won’t affect emission regulations already in place that are self- and city-imposed. In recent months, calls to diversify CPS Energy’s generation portfolio and speed up the closure of the coal-burning plant have intensified.

Spruce, a two-unit plant located on Calaveras Lake in southern Bexar County, was one of the last coal-burning power plants to be built in the U.S. In 2020, Spruce emitted almost 6 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, according to the U.S. Energy Administration. Carbon dioxide is one of the leading causes of global climate change, as it traps heat in the atmosphere.

In a written statement, CPS Energy said its staff is “reviewing the ruling and its potential impacts,” but remains committed to decarbonizing operations and “transitioning to cleaner energy to ensure climate resiliency.”

The City of San Antonio has set climate goals through its Climate Action & Adaptation Plan, which it adopted in 2019, the statement notes, “and we at CPS Energy are continuing to work to meet our community’s expectations to achieve the CAAP’s objectives.”

Generation discussions within the utility are ongoing, and CPS Energy staff are working to develop several options they can present to the utility’s board of trustees by December.

Knowing it is set to lose roughly 3,000 megawatts of fossil fuel generation in the next decade, the utility has begun to replace some of that capacity with greener options.

The goal is to add up to 900 megawatts of solar, 50 megawatts of energy storage and 500 megawatts of firming capacity — likely natural gas — to CPS Energy’s generation mix over the next 20 years. The utility recently signed a deal to add 300 megawatts of utility-scale solar from Con Edison, a New York-based company the utility has partnered with since 2016.

While the court’s decision does not block the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases, it does mean the agency must utilize a different set of legal tools to do it.

Using the “major questions doctrine,” the court said no federal agency can adopt rules that alter the economy — such as demanding companies move away from gas and oil and toward green power — unless Congress has authorized a rule to address a specific problem.

The question of how much authority the EPA has to regulate carbon emissions from power plants dates back to the Obama era, when that administration attempted to implement carbon limits for each state in an effort to reduce emissions from power plants and to urge states to shift to cleaner energy options.

Known as the Clean Power Plan, the new rules were temporarily blocked in 2016 by the courts and then repealed in 2019 by the Trump Administration, which argued the plan exceeded the authority given to the EPA under the Clean Air Act.

In an emailed statement to the San Antonio Report, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the state agency responsible for “protecting the state’s public health and natural resources” in a way that is “consistent with sustainable economic development,” applauded the court’s decision.

“We are pleased that the U.S. Supreme Court agreed with our long-standing position that the Clean Power Plan went beyond EPA’s authority, absent clear delegation from Congress,” TCEQ stated.

This decision will not change current courses of action to reduce carbon emissions locally, said Miguel Segura, spokesman for the Alamo Area Council of Governments (AACOG), which monitors and studies local air quality.

AACOG and its partners, which include the city, the county and CPS Energy, are “committed to … going above and beyond to reduce emissions, [continuing to fight] to get back into attainment and improving the quality of life and health for its residents,” Segura said.

“We’re still digesting the ruling, but it’s possible that Bexar County will have more flexibility to claim [Texas] State Implementation Plan credits for emission reduction activities referenced in this ruling, since it will no longer be federally mandated,” he said. “We do not anticipate this decision having a significant impact on the health or air quality of our region.”

Lindsey Carnett covers the environment, science and utilities for the San Antonio Report. A native San Antonian, she graduated from Texas A&M University in 2016 with a degree in telecommunication media...