Coolidge, AZ

SRP submits fresh request for controversial Coolidge gas plant expansion following Corporation Commission rejection

Jeremy Beren

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Jeremy Beren/NewsBreak

By Jeremy Beren / NewsBreak Pinal County, AZ

(Coolidge, Ariz.) — The Salt River Project wants a do-over.

SRP on Monday filed a request for rehearing and reconsideration with the Arizona Corporation Commission, after the panel last month voted down a proposal to expand the utilities giant's Coolidge Generating Station. The five-member panel refused to grant SRP the Certificate of Environmental Compatibility required to go ahead with the project.

"We are disappointed but not surprised that Salt River Project is continuing to push this harmful project,” Sierra Club Grand Canyon Chapter director Sandy Bahr said in an emailed statement to NewsBreak. “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 would 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."

Despite the ACC's firm rejection of the plan, top SRP officials have remained undeterred.

Bobby Olsen — SRP's senior director of corporate planning, environmental services and innovation — sounded alarm bells last week when he claimed the company has no recourse to meet the surging demand for power in the Phoenix metropolitan area beyond expanding the gas plant.

SRP's filing with the ACC, shared with NewsBreak on Monday, insists it will be SRP customers footing the bill if Corporation Commissioners do not change their minds.

SRP, claiming last month's CEC denial was "arbitrary, unreasonable, and unlawful," states it "must now seek to replace the reliable, flexible, least-cost generation option of the Coolidge Expansion Project with dramatically more expensive and uncertain options." The company also mentioned that the Arizona Power Plant and Transmission Line Siting Committee voted 7-2 in favor of granting a CEC for the project prior to the ACC vote.

In a particularly-defiant portion of the filing, SRP wholly rejects what it interprets as the ACC having authority over the company's resource planning process. SRP says its elected Board — which only approved the expansion project by a slim 8-6 margin — went above and beyond to scope out "the feasibility and cost of potential resource alternatives" when it was not necessarily required to do so.

"SRP's customers need the capacity and flexibility that the Project will provide — along with other new resources — to ensure the lights stay on and air conditioners operate to protect public health and safety beginning in the summer of 2024," the filing read.

Director of resource planning Grant Smedley said Friday that SRP is ready to make further concessions in order to receive the ACC's green light to begin construction — and to win over the adjacent Randolph community, which would be directly impacted if the expansion proposal is ultimately approved.

Smedley said SRP would commit $2 million to a new community center in Randolph as part of $18 million total in mitigation efforts, which the company says are "unprecedented." These include a block wall and additional paving to alleviate sight, noise, and air pollution — even though the company's filing on Monday claimed the noise increase owing to the expansion would reach a "barely perceptible" level for Randolph residents.

Also in Monday's filing, SRP disputed any perception it had propagated further environmental or racial discrimination against the historically-Black community's residents.

"There is no evidence upon which to conclude the community received disparate treatment as compared to a white or affluent community," the filing said. "In fact, the SRP mitigation proposal to Randolph was significantly more than what was provided to the community adjacent to the Santan Generating Station on a per household basis."

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Jeff Jordan speaking outside the ACC building on April 12.Jeremy Beren/NewsBreak

But environmental advocacy group Rural Arizona Action still is not buying what the company is selling to the approximately 200 people who call Randolph home — and neither is Jeff Jordan, a lifelong resident.

"The Arizona Corporation Commission made the right decision to say ‘no’ to this expansion and to recognize the detrimental environmental impacts, especially in light of cheaper cleaner alternatives," Jordan said in an emailed statement. "It should stick with that decision and not further the environmental injustice in the community of Randolph.”

Rural Arizona Action is likely to continue vigorously protesting SRP's efforts to expand the Coolidge plant into Randolph.

"RAZA continues to stand strongly opposed to any version of a fossil fuel expansion," RAZA Research Assistant Kate Boettcher told NewsBreak. "There is no compromise on the health and safety of Randolph residents. We need clean energy alternatives now."

Less than three weeks ago, SRP presented one such alternative at its new Central Line Solar facility in Eloy and Coolidge. Central Line is part of SRP's Sustainable Energy Offering, a plan centered on renewable energy resources that seems antithetical to the company's intention to expand the fossil fuel-burning Coolidge facility.

"SRP has projects underway that will take us to 2,025 (megawatts) of solar energy by 2025, enough to power more than 450,000 average-size homes. We also plan to add 450 MW of battery storage by 2023, one of the largest battery storage commitments in the West. However, that is not enough to reliably serve our customers," the company said in a statement sent to NewsBreak.

"We are considering generation resources of all types to meet summer peak capacity needs and also support SRP’s 2035 Sustainability Goals. SRP has comprehensive understanding of the current market and what resource generation projects can be developed on SRP’s system in the near-term."

"As noted in our most recent ACC filing, none of the projects and resources that bid into SRP’s current All Source (Request for Proposals) can provide both the dependable flexibility and capacity of the Coolidge Expansion Project. In addition, given the recent increasing solar panel and battery supply chain challenges, there is no certainty of deliverability for alternative resources to meet demand in the summer of 2024."

The ACC must decide sometime before June 6 whether to grant a rehearing. If it does not, SRP will have to take up the matter in Superior Court.

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Jeremy is a freelance journalist covering health, energy, labor, and local politics. Reach him at jeremy.beren@newsbreak.com.

Phoenix, AZ
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