Tempe, AZ

Critics say local utility’s carbon reduction plan doesn’t go far enough

Jeremy Beren

Jeremy Beren/NewsBreak Pinal County

By Jeremy Beren / NewsBreak Pinal County, AZ

(Tempe, Ariz.) — Environmental justice advocates gathered outside the Salt River Project utility's Tempe headquarters on Monday to protest the company's plan to reduce its carbon footprint — arguing the measures do not go far enough.

At the rally, members of the Grand Canyon chapter of the Sierra Club presented the “People’s Energy Plan,” an alternative proposal submitted to SRP officials Monday, making clear they feel the company's previous stated plans to reduce its carbon footprint do not go far enough.

"Our community has experienced significant environmental injustice over the last few decades, including more air pollution like that from the Coolidge Generating Station,” said Randolph, Ariz. resident Ron Jordan, who was not in attendance, via emailed statement. “It is why we opposed SRP's expansion of Coolidge and why I am supportive of a clean energy path for the utility, so my community of Randolph and other communities like mine will not be burdened with more pollution and the health impacts that go with it."

In a statement emailed to NewsBreak, the utility indicated a willingness to assess the People's Energy Plan and incorporate its findings into the Integrated System Plan (ISP).

"SRP looks forward to all opportunities to collect insights from our customers and stakeholders," the statement said. "We will review the proposed People’s Energy Plan from the Sierra Club and other participating organizations. Given the significant number of scenarios SRP is modeling in the ISP process, it is likely that the plan will align with one of the scenarios already being modeled.”

The utility said it is "actively working" toward incorporating more renewable resources and is modeling 42 potential system plans for the decade between 2025 and 2035. SRP’s 2035 Sustainability Goals include a 65 percent reduction in carbon intensity by 2035 relative to 2005 levels, and a 90 percent reduction by 2050.

SRP’s statement said it is adding more than 2,000 megawatts (MW) of utility-scale energy within the next three years, as well as 450 MW of battery storage by next year. The company says this represents “one of the largest commitments to utility-scale solar and battery storage by any utility in the Western U.S.”

What is the People's Energy Plan?

NewsBreak obtained a copy of the People's Energy Plan, which includes signatories from AriSEIA, Sierra Club, Tó Nizhóni Ání, the Tucson Audubon Society, and Pinal County-based Rural Arizona Action (RAZA).

The 20-page document, prepared by consulting firm Strategen, recommends that SRP retire its coal-firing Coronado, Springerville, and Four Corners generating stations before 2026. The company has already pledged to shutter its Craig and Hayden coal plants by 2028, but Coronado and Four Corners are not expected to be decommissioned before the 2030s.

In recommending SRP cease any expenditures on gas plants and units, the plan also says that "new gas generation not only poses significant risks, but is no longer part of a least cost portfolio." The company recently announced it expects to install new gas turbines at the primarily solar Copper Crossing facility in Florence by next year.

Strategen and Sierra Club further believe SRP must "explore all options and incentives" available through the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 — such as tax credits for renewable energy initiatives like solar or wind turbines at the company's facilities.

RAZA co-executive director Natali Fierros Bock speaking outside SRP headquarters on Monday.Courtesy of Sierra Club

"We urge the Salt River Project to support the People's Energy Plan and commit to a more inclusive and accountable process in their Integrated System Plan," RAZA co-executive director Natali Fierros Bock said Monday. "It must be led by both SRP customers and people outside of their power and water districts who are impacted by the facilities they operate."

A continuing process

On Monday, the Arizona Republic reported that four SRP board members were stripped of their committee assignments after opposing the company's efforts to bring more gas units online — particularly at its Coolidge facility in Pinal County, where Arizona Corporation Commissioners have twice rejected proposals to expand the plant.

NewsBreak has learned this board meeting took place concurrently with the People's Energy Plan rally outside, where speakers like Reverend Tom Martinez, from Arizona Interfaith Power and Light (AIPL) and the Desert Palm United Church of Christ, were urging SRP to reverse course and consider the plan's analyses.

"At the dawn of the 21st Century, we have become radically disconnected from the earth," Martinez said. "Whether you are an SRP executive or an activist here on behalf of the earth, we all must find ways to heal and reconnect.”

SRP said via statement that its ISP process, which began in November 2021, has included input from AIPL, Sierra Club, and the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project (SWEEP), among other organizations. Details and minutes from the company's ISP meetings can be found here.

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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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