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Proposed Coolidge gas plant expansion in the hands of ACC

Posted at 8:03 PM, Mar 16, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-16 23:03:15-04

RANDOLPH, AZ — Salt River Project made its case to state regulators to build an additional 16 gas turbines at its Coolidge Generation Station on Wednesday.

While the utility is not regulated by the Arizona Corporation Commission, its application for a Certificate of Environmental Compatibility must be approved by regulators because of the large amount of power to be generated.

The power plant currently has a capacity of 575mw. The expansion would construct an additional 820mw.

Generation over 100mw must be first recommended by the Arizona Power Plant and Line Siting Committee then approved by the ACC.

In February the committee recommended the expansion 7-2.

During Wednesday's hearing attorneys for SRP argued that the $953 million expansion of its existing gas plant is its best option to bring more power online before Summer 2024 when the utility anticipates having reliability issues due to rapid growth and demand in the Valley. It has said that the plant would be used during peak usage times and when renewables are not available.

"The project is environmentally compatible, critically needed to reliably, economically and will sustainably serve SRP's unprecedented growth," SRP attorney Albert Acken told Commissioners.

But SRP has been criticized for not using a competitive process to make that determination. Environmental advocates argued that renewable options were not seriously considered as an alternative.

"If one of the traditional companies you regulate-APS or TEP were here with this same proposal right now and had not even put in an RFP (request for proposal), you would laugh them out of here. And rightly so," Sierra Club attorney Court Rich said to Commissioners.

The utility said it used recent information it already had in house to determine costs for various generation options, rather than start a new process for this project.

"Under any scenario evaluated, the expansion is the least cost resource," said Acken said.

Randoph, the community next door to the plant remained opposed. Their attorney argued that the utility's application did not meet the standard to be approved for various reasons including what their attorney called accident potential. The attorney used the example of the August 2021 explosion of the nearby El Paso pipeline that killed three people.

"And when we ask about that, the answer from (SRP) was 'well you know, we weren't using that pipeline. There are two and we were using the different one.' Of course you're not using it now because it blew up and it killed some people," Randolph attorney Diane Post told Commissioners.

SRP was not involved in the August 2021 explosion but it occurred very close to the gas plant and Randolph. The possibility remains a worry for residents.

"Randolph residents' [interests] weigh more. Their interest is more than the general public because the harm to them is direct, immediate and it is not a general non-possessory harm," Post said about consideration of the application.

The ACC can accept, reject or modify the committee's recommendation.

SRP has indicated it needs a decision by the end of March in order to keep on track for production and purchase of the turbines it has reserved from GE.