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SRP $1B gas plan bad for consumers, environment

Natural gas power plant near Ventura California.

Last week, Salt River Project announced that it plans to spend nearly $1 billion to add 16 new natural gas units to its powerplant in Coolidge, one of the largest fossil fuel investments by a utility in recent memory.  

I served on the SRP board from 2016-2020, and this decision stunned me. It is wrong-headed, unnecessary, and out of step with where responsible electric utilities are moving in this country. 

And, the timing could not be worse.  

Earlier this month, the United Nations released an unprecedented report on climate change, described by U.N. Secretary General António Guterres as a “code red for humanity.” The report emphasized how cutting methane emissions, the main component in natural gas, is critical to slow global warming. 

These plants that SRP wants to build are traditional gas “peaking” plants designed to meet peak electricity demand late in the day during summer months. They are expensive and inefficient because they quickly ramp up and down to meet peak demand and are off-line the rest of the time.  

We have better and cleaner options for meeting peak demand now, including solar plus batteries.  Solar is now the cheapest source of electricity on the market while battery costs have fallen 90% in the past decade. Lithium-ion battery deployment has boomed since 2019. Solar plus four hours of battery storage is now cheaper and more efficient for meeting fluctuating demand than a gas plant. But SRP seems stuck in the past, relying on what is familiar rather than what is best.  

Paul Hirt

Paul Hirt

Our state is a living example of the disruptive effects of climate change. Extreme heat, wildfires, air pollution, and drought have taken their toll on us. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation just declared a shortage on the Colorado River, which will dramatically impact Arizona in 2022 and beyond.  

Arizona ought to be leading on the climate crisis, not fueling it. Innovative solutions and urgent action are needed, yet SRP is content to rely on tradition and let others lead. While SRP has embraced utility scale solar, it continues to discourage residential rooftop solar. While it has invested in several solar plus battery projects, it still prefers burning fossil fuels. This is deeply disappointing to me as a former SRP director. 

Besides being wrong for the environment, gas is also wrong from a fiscal perspective. Not only are renewables cheaper, but addressing the climate crisis will require us to retire fossil fuel powerplants as quickly as possible. The rapid closure of coal-fired powerplants in Arizona and across the U.S. in the past decade is just a harbinger of what’s to come. Gas plants are next. That is why forward-thinking utilities have mostly stopped investing in new fossil fuel plants. They can become “stranded assets,” unable to generate power or revenue, sometimes even before their debts are repaid. SRP is putting its ratepayers at risk and adding fuel to the climate crisis — all for nothing when better alternatives exist.  

The market signals are clear: Low costs and abundant sunshine mean the trajectory and momentum of a growing clean energy economy in Arizona makes both fiscal and environmental sense. 

The people of Arizona are calling for this shift to clean energy. A recent American Lung Association poll found more than 80 % of voters support greater investment in energy efficiency, and 79believe Arizona should use more solar power 

As the impacts of climate change become more apparent, SRP should be doing everything it can to support clean power and clean (electrified) transportation that will move our state toward a healthy and more prosperous future.  

Paul Hirt is professor emeritus at Arizona State University and a former member of the board of directors of Salt River Project.


  1. Global warming is bunk. Visit for the facts.

  2. Look, soalr has it’s place, but it is not a foolproof energy source. Yes, AZ has an abundance of sunshine, but let’s assume for 1 second that a catastrophic volcanic eruption spewed enough ash and particulates into the air that all solar power was reduced by 50% for an extended period of time. There is 1 hypothetical. It’s even a realistic possibility. Natural gas is abundant and reliable, nuclear is a forever source of power and even coal plants would produce under some global event like that. We need to be forward thinking for unforeseen events and possibilities. Absolutely install solar when it makes sense, it is not the sole power source for the future, and wind is just full of hot air.
    And BTW – those plants can produce power anytime there is a need. It’s not a waste or a bad idea.

  3. I think you are completely wrong.

  4. It is incredibly disappointing to see individuals — a professor, no less! — downplay or outright dismiss the environmental and social costs of extracting and processing the minerals required for battery manufacturing. Utility-scale batteries only exacerbate this. The mining industry has a disastrous record on environmental offense and human rights. Simply ignoring the child labor, environmental damage, and toxic pollution does not make it go away, and any discussion that does not address these costs is dishonest.

  5. All energy generation options have downsides. Unlike Dr. Hirt, I have no energy policy expertise to choose between SRP’s energy generation options. I would have assumed that SRP is making choices based on expected future energy costs. The new IPCC Report should be signaling global governments and energy industry professionals (like SRP) requires us to align markets with our health and planetary needs for clean energy. Energy planners should base infrastructure investments on an assumption of a significant price increase for carbon-intensive energy production. I am concerned that the bid process apparently didn’t identify the energy needs and allow the most cost-effective long-term options available at this point in time to compete. Here’s a great resource for learning more about a #PriceOnCarbon: (or citizen advocacy efforts at )

  6. Thank you, Dr. Hirt,. You offer a voice of sanity and wisdom in a crazy, self-centered world that seems to car only about short term gains and discounts the costs to future generations and the cost to clean air and water and a healthy planet. It’s time for us to quit our addiction to fossil fuels. There are cheeper alternatives available and more on the horizon. This $1B investment in fossil fuels are guaranteed to become stranded assets. SRP customers, the health of the planet, and our children and grandchildren will be left holding the bag and paying the costs.

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