Why is the SRP so full of gas?

Climate change is having devastating effects in Arizona, including extreme and long-lasting drought, more extreme heat and heat-related deaths, and larger wildfires, among other impacts. Despite this, the Salt River Project (SRP) is doubling down on fossil fuels contributing to the climate crisis, proposing to add more and more fossil gas production units to its power plants.

Probably the most outrageous recent decision by the SRP board was its vote in September 2021 to approve the addition of 16 gas units to its Coolidge power station for a total of an additional 820 megawatts, right next to the Randolph’s historic black community, increasing air pollution, noise, and lighting impacts – a textbook case of environmental racism. A majority of Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) commissioners saw the significant harm of this proposal, agreed that it was not in the public interest, and rejected the location of these units.

But SRP doesn’t like to take no for an answer, so he’s suing the ACC to overturn that decision. Meanwhile, SRP had already purchased eight of the 16 gas units, assuming that the Commission would approve its project, so in addition to pursuing the ACC, it is moving forward with the siting of two of these eight units at another place.

In September 2022, SRP’s Board of Directors approved the placement of two of the gas units it had purchased for the Coolidge Project on the site of SRP’s Copper Crossing Solar Facility. During discussions at the board meeting, SRP management made it clear that a gas pipeline for the Copper Crossing facility would be sized to accommodate four gas generating units, so it appears they are already planning to add additional units to the site later. By dividing this four-turbine project into stages and installing only two units at a time, SRP escapes the oversight of the ACC, which only regulates the siting of new energy projects of 100 MW or more. SRP’s shameful attempt to circumvent Arizona’s power plant location regulations undermines the intent of the law and demands careful scrutiny.

As if all that gas wasn’t enough, SRP previously approved the construction of two additional gas units at the Agua Fria power station in Glendale and two more new gas units at the Desert Basin power station in Casa Grande. In addition, SRP is now proposing to install new components to increase the production capacity of the gas-fired units at its Santan and Gila River plants. In sum, SRP has embarked on a massive campaign to increase gas-fired generation throughout its system, despite the fact that gas already accounts for 44% of SRP’s energy mix, compared to only about 4% for solar.

Fossil gas prices at their highest in 14 years, and continue to rise due to geopolitical and economic factors, a cost that is passed on to SRP taxpayers. Besides the high costs and volatility of gas prices, fossil gas also contributes significantly to climate change. Gasworks emit greenhouse gases, mostly carbon, directly into the air. Extracting, processing and transporting the gas to the power plant also has a significant impact on the climate and can include methane leaks – up to 4% of fractured gas is lost through leakage. Methane is a volatile organic compound and a potent greenhouse gas, with a global warming potential about 30 times greater over 100 years than carbon dioxide.

So why is the SRP so full of gas? Why does it persist in ramping up this resource so significantly despite the high and volatile price of fossil gas? Why doesn’t SRP build more solar and storage projects, which generate clean, affordable energy and have no fuel costs?

Arizonans deserve better. SRP needs to go down a cleaner path. Models developed by Strategen Consulting experts demonstrate that SRP can achieve a much cleaner and more profitable portfolio by switching to renewable energy. To combat climate change and best serve the interests of its customers, SRP should significantly increase its investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency. So why all this gas?