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SRP sues for court to overturn ACC gas plant rejection

Posted at 7:22 PM, Jul 11, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-11 22:22:27-04

The Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) is set to reconsider whether to rehear Salt River Project's (SRP) application to expand its natural gas fired power plant in Coolidge about 60 miles south of Phoenix.

The placement of the agenda item for the agency's July 12 & 13 open meeting, coincided with the utility's disclosure that filed two lawsuits to revive the expansion effort. One case was filed in Maricopa County Superior Court, and a special action was filed with the Arizona Supreme Court to expedite the case. On Monday the Supreme Court declined jurisdiction in the case.

This would be the second time the ACC will vote on whether to consider a rehearing.

In June, commissioners voted 3 to 2 not to reconsider its April decision to reject SRP's Certificate of Environmental Compatibility to expand its Coolidge Generating Station from its current 12 gas turbines to an additional 16 for an additional 820 megawatts of power generation.

The plant is located directly next to the historically Black community of Randolph, which along with environment groups opposed the expansion citing noise and pollution concerns and fear about expanding gas in an area with a history of explosion.

In August 2021, an explosion of the nearby El Paso gas pipeline, killed three people and rocked buildings in Randolph.

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

The utility has painted a dire picture for its reliability if the plant expansion is not granted. In a past interview with ABC15 SRP Executive Bobby Olsen said unless the decision is reversed there is "serious risk" that there will not be enough electricity available to meet demand in Summer of 2024.

While not regulated by the ACC the company must get its approval of a Certificate of Compatibility for power generation projects over 100k. And according to state law the ACC must consider factors like effects on wildlife, environment, noise levels historic sites and estimated costs.

In its initial 4-1 rejection in April, Commissioners cited incomplete evidence in the record including the utility's failure to show a competitive bidding process with an all-source Request for Proposal (RFP) specific to the project. They are reasons the utility said are outside of the statutory authority of the Corporation Commission. In its appeal in Superior Court the utility referenced the statutory requirement that the ACC is to "balance, in the broad public interest, the need for an adequate, economical and reliable supply of electric power with the desire to minimize the effect thereof on the environment and ecology of this state."

The utility has asked that the court reverse the ACC decision as unlawful and approve the CEC. It also ask for several precedent setting declarations including that the Commission has not jurisdiction to evaluate a project's effects on customer rates, may not deny a project based on environmental justice concerns.