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SRP wants ACC to reverse Coolidge gas plant rejection

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Posted at 5:16 PM, May 17, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-17 22:35:09-04

RANDOLPH, AZ — Salt River Project (SRP) filed a request for rehearing and reconsideration of its application to expand its gas-fired power plant in Coolidge on Monday.

In at 4-1 decision in April the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) rejected the utility's request to increase the plant's capacity from 12 gas-fired turbines to 28.

The ACC does not regulate SRP but must approve the construction of large electricity generation projects in Arizona for a Certificate of Environmental Compatibility.

In its filing, the utility said unless the decision is reversed there is "serious risk" that there will not be enough electricity available to meet demand beginning in summer 2024.

SRP executive Bobby Olsen told ABC15 the expansion was one of several projects the utility planned to increase generation over the next several years to accommodate the Valley's record-setting growth. But he said the schedules for other projects have been jeopardized by supply chain issues for battery storage, price revisions, and a federal hold on importing solar panels while the US Department of Commerce investigates if some Asian suppliers are avoiding tariffs.

"That's having a substantial chilling effect for projects. It's not just new projects," he said. "SRP has more than 1,300 megawatts of solar panel and battery projects that are in the queue that we expect to be online by 2024.

Environmental groups and members of the historically Black community of Randolph, which is located next door to the Coolidge plant, have vehemently opposed the expansion.

Sierra Club sent a statement to ABC15 saying in part, "The record is clear on why the Arizona Corporation Commission did and should continue to deny this Certificate of Environmental Compatibility for the plant as it will harm the community of Randolph and further environmental injustice, contribute to air pollution in an area that already does not meet health-based standards for air quality, further contribute climate-harming emissions, and cost SRP ratepayers a bundle."

Randolph Resident Jeff Jordan said the group was not surprised when an SRP representative told them about the reconsideration request during a community meeting on Friday morning.

"They (residents) were anticipating that SRP would file a rehearing," he said.

Jordan said the community is aware that the Phoenix-metro area needs additional power, they just don't want more of it right next door to them.

"SRP said they want to be a good neighbor," he said. "Why are you pushing the expansion on us then? Look for another site, look for another location and build your facility."

But the utility said it's not that simple.

"The reality is that we're not aware of any sites-despite our due diligence around siting processes-there's none that we are confident that we can bring these resources online by 2024. It really is about these resources in this location."

SRP's resource planning process was at the center of the ACC's rejection of its original application.

Chair Lea Marquez Peterson, Commissioners Sandra Kennedy and Anna Tovar all cited, amongst other reasons, the utility not performing an All-Source Request For Proposals (RFP) specific to the expansion contributing to the application being incomplete.

RFPs are used by utilities to solicit competitive bids for various types of power generation.

In its new filing, the utility said that the "Commission may not lawfully deny the Application on the basis that SRP did not conduct an additional All Source Request for Proposals (RFP)," and called the decision "Arbitrary, unreasonable and unlawful."

Commissioner Justin Olson, who cast the lone no vote, also filed a letter to the docket asking Commissioners to reconsider the application and said opposition "was really an attempt to stop any expansion of natural gas energy generation."

Another reason Commissioners cited were potential harmful environmental effects to Randolph. In its appeal, SRP said it is increasing its financial assistance to the community for mitigation with additional paved roads, installation of noise walls, more landscaping, and financing toward the construction of a community center.

The company says the commitment will go up from $14 million to $18 million in value and equate to about $120,000 per resident. By comparison, it says a similar program for the San Tan Generating Station in Gilbert came to about $1,250 per household.

For Jordan, no amount of money will be enough.

"It doesn't stop the pollution from coming into your home, your community," he said. "We cannot make one group happy and a small minority Black, Hispanic, Native American community, suffer the consequences of everyone else."

If the Commission does not act on the application for rehearing within 20 days of filing, it will be considered denied. From that date, SRP would have 30 days to appeal the decision to Superior Court according to an ACC spokesperson.