By Jeremy Beren / NewsBreak Pinal County, AZ
(Florence, Ariz.) — Utility company Salt River Project’s two new board-approved 50-megawatt natural gas turbines at the company's Copper Crossing facility have provoked a divided response.
SRP's Board of Directors voted last Monday, Sept. 12, to expand the generating station, which will be renamed the Copper Crossing Energy and Research Center. The Tempe-based utilities giant says its "continued resource development" is necessary to meet the greater Phoenix area's growing power needs by summer 2024.
The company says internal assessments show that in two years, SRP will not be able to service current and future customers within the existing facilities.
"By bringing online a variety of resources, including additional flexible, quick-start natural gas, we will have more reliable capacity at times of peak demand, the ability to back up our growing portfolio of renewable resources, and reliable output during long-duration system events like damaging storms and wildfires," SRP general manager and chief executive Mike Hummel said via statement.
"By continuing to plan for fossil fuel gas generation, SRP is holding back climate, clean energy, and economic progress," Sierra Club Grand Canyon Chapter director Sandy Bahr said in a statement. "It is essential that we do all that we can to plan for a future that prioritizes renewable energy and clean energy efficiency and that we stop the addition of more fossil gas.”
SRP's "insurance policy"
SRP owns the land around Copper Crossing, which is located in Florence, adjacent to the existing Abel Substation on West Judd Road and the Copper Crossing Solar Ranch on West Bella Vista Road. It houses a 20-megawatt solar facility.
The company's statement said the two new natural gas turbines that will be installed pending a permit from the county will "support and enable" the transition to a lower carbon resource portfolio.
"We have a significant challenge in terms of the amount of growth we're seeing in our service territory, so we really need the additional generation capacity from these turbines," said SRP director of resource planning Grant Smedley.
SRP says the new natural gas turbines being integrated at Copper Crossing will function as a sort of "insurance policy" as the company responds to increasing demand for power — and as it works to bring more renewable resources online.
Smedley told NewsBreak that the turbines will be online for "hundreds" of hours each year — mainly during the summer months, when energy demand is at its highest — and insisted the company's focus is aligned with what groups like Sierra Club want: solar energy and battery storage.
"We're investing in solar and storage, and we're doing it to every extent that we can," he said. "I don't think there are any other projects we could do that would be viable for summer 2024 ... Our portfolio for energy efficiency is already one of the largest in the West."
Surging demand and surging rates
The latest back-and-forth between SRP and Sierra Club comes as the organization and other advocates continue to argue against SRP's efforts to overturn an Arizona Corporation Commission decision rejecting the company's attempts to expand the Coolidge Generating Station, also in Pinal County.
"SRP are very dug in on installing more gas (turbines), and part of the reason is that they already purchased eight of these gas units that they wanted to put in at Coolidge," Sierra Club's Bahr told NewsBreak via phone. "Now they're looking for other places to put them."
Bahr expects SRP will sidestep Line Siting Committee oversight and Corporation Commission scrutiny at Copper Crossing, as the new turbines combined do not surpass the 100-megawatt power generation threshold. The company has also announced plans to site new gas units at its Agua Fria and Desert Basin facilities, located in Glendale and Casa Grande respectively.
In addition, SRP's 1 million-plus customers recently learned that their rates are going up beginning in November. Most customers are expected to see around a $5.60 increase on their monthly bills, which will jump again in 2023.
Bahr said Sierra Club will be looking closely at Pinal's air quality permit in an effort to slow down the process. But a statement said company leadership anticipates construction will begin next month, with SRP's board expected to vote on further developmental phases later this year and early next year. An SRP spokesperson told NewsBreak that the company hopes to receive the permit by March 2023.
"Considering what we heard from Pinal County on Coolidge (Generating Station), they were all in on (SRP expansion). I would be surprised if they denied the air quality permit, but they could put some additional conditions on it," she said. "That's probably the most we can expect from them."