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Gas plant plans concern neighbors, environmental groups

Posted at 7:10 PM, Feb 02, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-10 12:31:59-04

RANDOLPH, AZ — In its heyday, Randolph, Arizona was filled with Black people who fled the Jim Crow laws in states like Arkansas and Oklahoma to find work in the cotton fields in Pinal County.

Ron Jordan's father was one of them.

"They were told that you come out to Arizona and go to work and it's like money laying on the ground," he said. "And and the purpose of it was they could pick cotton and the people were free."

Jordan's father helped find work for other Black families who arrived and provided housing on his land.

"He hired all the laborers, and you can't see it from here, but there's little concrete slabs over there where cabins used to be," he said while showing ABC15 around his family's seven acres that were passed down to him.

The town is a shell of its former self, as children have moved out for better employment opportunities. But for the people who remain, Randolph is still a place where people who don't have much can afford to own a home and a few acres to go with it.

"I just acquired three lots and a trailer home to have something that's my own," said resident Ruben Rodriguez.

Now instead of cotton, Randolph is surrounded by industrial-type businesses.

Rodriguez's place butts up to the train tracks which now mark the city limits of Coolidge. Jordan says the town used to extend well past the tracks until Coolidge annexed the area a few years ago.

"They annexed everything, with the exception of Randolph. They didn't want Randolph," Jordan said.

Now some of the annexed land houses the Coolidge Generating Station, a gas-fired power plant owned by Arizona's second-largest utility Salt River Project (SRP), and the company is looking to expand it from the current 12 gas turbines to an additional 16.

The utility says the increase is necessary to meet the Valley's growing demand for power.

SRP would not agree to an interview with ABC15 but in a statement said in part the expansion, "would provide quick-start, dependable energy that is available when renewable energy resources, like solar and wind, are not producing power and when battery systems are charging."

Residents in Randolph, who live next door to it, are not on board.

"When we add up all the negative stuff to the to the positive, there is no positive," said homeowner Richard Wright.

The plant was built by Canadian company TransCanada from 2009-2011. SRP bought it in 2019. The expansion would add eight new turbines in 2024 and another 8 in 2025 and would be "capable of ramping up to full production within 10 minutes," according to SRP's statement. In September 2021 a divided SRP board approved the nearly $1 billion project 8 to 6.

But for Jordan and his neighbors say the plant is already too much.

"16 more additions of noise. 16 more additions of all the bright lights and not knowing when they're going to crank up," Jordan said. "And then 16 more additions of the fumes and things are going to come out of there, which we don't know yet. And they haven't said yet. All they said is they're going to monitor it."

Environmental group Sierra Club is very concerned about the expansion of gas at a time when climate change is worsening.

"The gas plant will put carbon emissions into the air, it will also pollute the air and that pollution has health impacts," said Sierra Club Chapter Director Sandy Bahr.

"This area where the plant is located, is already in an area that is considered severe for particulates, and this plant will emit additional particulates," Bahr said. "And those smaller particulates are ones that get deep in our lungs, we can't really cough them out."

SRP told ABC15, "turbines are expected to run for a few hundred hours per year, as a result, the emissions from Coolidge itself will be small." Concerning air quality they added the "project will comply with all local, state and federal air quality regulations," and that additional permit will need to be obtained from Pinal County.

"We're not convinced because every night like they [the neighbors] say, We can smell it. You can smell it," Wright told ABC15.

While they may be able to smell it, neighbors say they won't be able to benefit from it because they are not SRP customers and the power generated at the plant is sent to the Valley, not Randolph.

They also fear the taxes that the plant generates won't benefit Randolph either.

SRP estimates it will pay $76 million in property taxes through 2033:

  • $10.8 million to City of Coolidge
  • $31.6 million to Coolidge Unified Schools
  • $11.4 million to Central Arizona College
  • $18.5 million to Pinal County

And the remainder to state, county and city construction taxes.

"All these people are 5, 6, 8 miles away, and we're blocks away from it and not getting nothing. Nothing," Wright said.

"They don't have proper infrastructure here. There's no sewer system here. There's limited street lighting," Jordan said.

In a statement, Pinal County told ABC15 it is in the "pre-programming stage" to install fire hydrants and sidewalks in Randolph using Community Development Block Grants and other grant programs.

"We don't benefit financially. They're not giving us no jobs. We don't get no electricity. But we get all the fallout," Wright said.

Now everyone is gearing up for a hearing with the Arizona Corporation Commission which, despite not regulating SRP, must sign off of the expansion with a Certificate of Necessity. The two-week meeting will begin on February 7 with public comment online, by phone, and in person at the Radisson Hotel Casa Grande, 777 N. Pinal Ave, in Casa Grande.

The people in Randolph don't know what to expect next but are hoping whatever it is helps their town.

"We don't want you to feel sorry for us. But be fair, be fair. That's what we're asking," Wright said.