As a former Mayor of Chandler and a commissioner of the Arizona Corporation Commission, I know first-hand the importance of reliable and affordable power and I am becoming increasingly concerned that Arizona will not have reliable electricity in the near future.
Arizonans want to know that when it’s 120 degrees outside, that the power will be on and their air conditioners will be capable of operating. Arizona’s businesses require a reliable source of power to keep their doors open and their customers satisfied.
The state’s large industrial companies that are expanding their operations, or companies looking to locate here require reliable power to produce the needs of our modern world. To meet the needs of our state, it is imperative that our utilities have the ability to invest in new gas generation capacity that is vital to keep the lights on.
As a commissioner I advocated for a responsible and cost-effective transition towards a more renewable future that would benefit ratepayers through lower costs, all the while maintaining the reliability of the system.
The state’s utilities have continued to march down this path through significant investments in renewable energy, but these renewable energy products are not going to keep the lights on in times of high demand. We need something that can be turned on and off when needed.
So what is capable of serving these needs? Some would argue batteries can meet such need, yet when I look around I only see 3,500 MW of batteries installed in the entirety of the United States. For context, the entire United States has over 1,000,000 MW of installed generation capacity. That means batteries make up less than a half of 1%. What’s more striking, is about half of those batteries have been installed in the past year.
These systems are quite new and as a result there is not a lot of data out there about how well they function. Let’s take a look at the track record of batteries, in part, during the last couple of years.
We currently have a 10 MW AES battery that failed in Chandler from a fire. In 2019 another battery facility caught fire and injured firefighters in the process. In California, the largest battery facility in the world, a 300 MW plant called Moss Landing went online in December 2020, but by September 2021 it was offline due to damaged batteries and overheating.
Phase II of Moss Landing, a 100 MW battery, didn’t fare much better, coming online in August 2021, and then going offline in much the same manner as Phase 1 six months later. How are these batteries working today? They aren’t. They remain offline with no timetable for return.
Now there are certainly batteries out there that continue to perform admirably and I do believe batteries are going to play an ever-increasing role in our system, but we need to get experience with batteries, understand them better, and make sure they will work in our desert climate before we put all our eggs in one basket.
In the interim, we have to ensure Arizona’s utilities have the ability to construct new gas facilities capable of meeting the demands placed on the system. These gas peaking facilities are state of the art, only operate a handful of hours out of the year and as a result produce little emissions, and most importantly they keep the power flowing in Arizona.
Boyd Dunn is a former member of the Arizona Corporation Commission and former Mayor of Chandler.