Arizona benefits from diverse energy mix – including coal, nuclear


Thanks to helpful geography, Arizona is enjoying something of an energy breakthrough. In 2017, Arizona’s electricity generation from solar power exceeded its hydroelectric output for the first time. And the state now ranks second in the nation in solar generation.

Overall, nuclear power, coal, and natural gas still carry the major load, though, contributing a combined 88 percent of Arizona’s utility-scale electricity generation. And anchoring it all is the Palo Verde Nuclear Station, the largest nuclear power plant in the nation and the largest net generator of electricity. Solar isn’t insignificant, though. Thanks to clear Southwestern skies, Arizona’s solar sector produced roughly 6 percent of the state’s net electricity in 2017.

Terry Jarrett
Terry Jarrett

Such a diverse energy mix has benefited Arizona residents. In January 2019, residential electricity prices amounted to 12.22 cents per kilowatt-hour, lower than the national average of 12.47 cents. Much of this can be attributed to the sturdy coal and nuclear power plants that have ensured the state’s baseload generation for decades.

But what about a trend emerging in some states — to scrap coal and nuclear in favor of natural gas and renewables? Would such a shift have significant repercussions for Arizona?

While Arizona has plentiful sun exposure, there are still limitations for renewables. Both wind and solar perennially require robust back-up systems for when the weather doesn’t cooperate. The Department of Energy estimates that even the most advanced wind turbines reach their full capacity only 42.5 percent of the time. And the highest-performing solar panels — like the ones in Arizona that feature sun-tracking motors — reach their full capacity an even lower 30 percent of the time. Filling these gaps often requires on-demand energy from “spinning reserves” of natural gas and coal-fired power generation.

Unfortunately, battery storage has yet to prove an all-purpose solution for such shortfalls. The best grid-scale battery technologies currently available can only provide hours of backup. That’s simply not enough to compensate during days — and even weeks — of low wind or solar output.

America’s energy profile is already changing, though. Since 2010, roughly 40 percent of America’s coal fleet has been shut down or designated for closure. And six nuclear plants have closed since 2013, with more closures planned by 2025.

These coal and nuclear plants possess one clear advantage, though. They store fuel on-site, and can run non-stop for months at a time. In contrast, wind and solar are dependent on optimum weather conditions. And natural gas is similarly challenged, since it relies on continuous fueling from a vast nationwide pipeline system. Arizona already understands the volatility of such a complicated pipeline arrangement – in December 2018, residential natural gas prices in Arizona rose to 27 percent above the national average.

Industry experts are now growing concerned about the weather and delivery challenges faced by renewables and natural gas. The North American Electric Reliability Corporation recently cautioned that a rapid shift to clean energy and natural gas “could leave the bulk power system vulnerable to fuel delivery risks in areas where firm pipeline service is not procured.” And in January, the heads of four major U.S. utility providers expressed concern that a lack of “fuel security and fuel diversity” could limit overall electricity production.

Undoubtedly, natural gas and renewables are gaining prominence in Arizona and the nation. But it makes sense to keep all options on the table. In Arizona, coal and nuclear power have proven reliable for decades. They should continue to be part of an all-of-the-above energy mix alongside natural gas and solar for years to come.

Terry M. Jarrett is an energy attorney and consultant who has served on both the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners and the Missouri Public Service Commission.

Arizona voters should reject big green tax on poor


Liberals love to talk about helping the poor and the middle class, so why are they pushing one of the most regressive taxes in modern times?

Proposition 127 would require half of Arizona electric power production by 2030 to come mostly from wind and solar power. Green groups and activists like billionaire Tom Steyer say that Prop. 127 will be virtually cost-free to Arizonans. Really? In my study for the Goldwater Institute, I examined the disappointing results of states like California, New York, and Vermont, which have been duped into similar energy regulations. States with renewable mandates of 50 percent or more, as required by 127, have average power costs that are roughly 50 percent higher than states that allow utilities to buy the cheapest energy from the power grid.

Stephen Moore
Stephen Moore

A recent Wall Street Journal analysis found that California, which has already moved to a 50 percent green energy mandate, charges businesses and families 67 percent more for electricity than cheaper states like Arizona. Thanks in part to its stringent renewable mandate, the WSJ reports, “California electricity rates have surged 30 percent since 2011 compared to an 8 percent increase nationwide.”

Florida, by contrast, which uses natural gas, solar energy, clean coal, and nuclear power and doesn’t have a clean energy mandate, has seen its utility costs fall by 3 percent over this same period. Does Arizona want to be like high-cost California or low-cost Florida?

Prop. 127’s hardest-hit victims will be low-income families. The U.S. Census Bureau reports the poor pay about five times more of their income on energy than rich families do. The energy mandate is Robin Hood in reverse: It steals from the poor to subsidize the rich.

These price hikes might make some sense if the scheme would actually clean the air—but it won’t. The mandate doesn’t include nuclear power or natural gas as “clean energy” sources, even though they’re among the environmentally safest producers of energy. Even coal-burning plants are far cleaner today than 30 years ago with pollution reductions of 30, 40 and even 50 percent for lead, carbon monoxide, and smog.

The initiative would foolishly restrict Arizona’s natural gas use at a time when America is in the midst of the biggest shale gas boom in history. Natural gas prices have fallen over the past decade by 70 percent, thanks to domestic shale gas production. Conversion to natural gas is the reason the United States has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions more than virtually any other nation over the last decade.

Nuclear energy is even cleaner because it emits virtually zero air pollutants into the atmosphere. Why would a green mandate exclude nuclear and potentially force the closure of the Palo Verde plant employing hundreds of Arizonans?

Yes, sunny Arizona is an ideal state for solar power. As it gets cheaper, the state should use solar whenever it makes financial sense. But politicians shouldn’t force you to buy it regardless of cost. It doesn’t make sense to insert into the state Constitution a requirement on energy use that locks Arizona into 50 percent wind and solar. Betting the state’s financial future and job base on wind and solar power is a huge risk to Arizona’s economic health.

— Stephen Moore is a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation and author of “Fueling Freedom: Exposing the Mad War on Energy” (Regnery, 2015). His new study for the Goldwater Institute is: “Arizona’s ‘Clean Energy’ Initiative: All Pain, No Gain.”


The views expressed in guest commentaries are those of the author and are not the views of the Arizona Capitol Times.

Corp Comm rejects SRP natural gas proposal

The Corporation Commission turned down a proposal from Salt River Project to expand its natural gas generating station in Coolidge.  

The commissioners voted 4-1 against the proposal with the lone “yes” coming from Republican Justin Olson, is running for U.S. Senate. 

 The vote came after a group of about 20 demonstrators including residents of Randolph – a historically Black community that’s adjacent to the Coolidge Generating Station – gathered outside the ACC offices this morning to protest SRP’s proposal.  

Holding signs with slogans like “Randolph deserves clean air” and “This is environmental racism,” residents like Jeff Jordan explained their opposition.  

“The proximity of the location, the health effects that we will develop; also, with this expansion, it’s going to erase a lot of history in the community, and so those are just some of the reasons why we oppose the project,” Jordan said. “I personally do not have anything against SRP – I don’t. I have a problem with the location and the development of this location.”  

 The project was also opposed by advocacy groups including the Sierra Club and Arizona Public Interest Research Group.  

Ryan Bentz, a founder of the Social Justice and Engineering Initiative, said on Tuesday that “Randolph should be defined by more than the polluting industries that surround it. What we are witnessing here in Randolph today is the textbook definition of environmental racism.”  

SRP’s plans called for spending $1 billion on 16 new gas units, which it said could power about 200,000 homes. It would have more than doubled the size of the plant, which currently has 12 gas units. The corporation said the expansion is needed to provide power to the rapidly growing Phoenix metro area. 

Ducey signs pipeline pact with New Mexico, Sonora

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, left, discusses the terms of a border pact she signed Wednesday with Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey and Sonora Gov. Claudia Pavlovich to build a pipeline through Arizona to move New Mexico natural gas to Sonora for eventual shipment to China. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)
New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, left, discusses the terms of a border pact she signed Wednesday with Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey and Sonora Gov. Claudia Pavlovich to build a pipeline through Arizona to move New Mexico natural gas to Sonora for eventual shipment to China. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

Gov. Doug Ducey on Dec. 19 signed a pact that will enable New Mexico to move its excess natural gas through Arizona to Sonora for eventual sale to Asia.

The deal provides a new market for New Mexico where Gov. Susana Martinez said her state has more natural gas than it can use on its own. And Sonora Gov. Claudia Pavlovich said her state benefits from the jobs that will be created building and operating a plant that will compress the gas into liquified form for transport on ships.

And what does Arizona get — other than a pipeline and other facilities to transport the gas?

In essence, Ducey said, it’s goodwill.

“This is just a way for us to work with our neighbors and promote binational trade,” the governor said, pointing out that Sonora already is Arizona’s largest trading partner. “This is just another way for us to bring that to life and be cooperative in economic development.”

At this point the agreement to cooperate is just that. Actual details, including a timeline and even a path for the pipeline, are not yet on the horizon.

And the agreement itself is valid for four years.

Ducey said, though, it is an important first step.

The governor acknowledged that in prior decades there have been shortages of natural gas which also led to price spikes. There even was a moratorium for a time on installing natural gas in new homes.

But Ducey said he’s not worried that shipping excess natural gas to Asia will result in less for this country when needed.

“Right now we’re in a positive position on energy,” he said. And Ducey said that, to have maximum flexibility, Arizona is “going to continue to have an all-of-the-above philosophy around energy, with a preference for renewables.”

And Martinez, for her part, said there is no basis for such a worry.

“I don’t think anybody understands the abundance of natural gas that exists just in one state, much less the rest of the country,” she said. “I don’t have any concerns that because we find a market that we are not going to be able to have that continuing discovery and production of natural gas.”

According to the agreement, New Mexico is currently producing 3.7 billion cubic feet of natural gas daily and is on track to reach 4.0 billion by 2022. It also says New Mexico is among the top ten states in proven reserves, with nearly 14.4 trillion cubic feet when measured at the end of 2016.

A lot of what the agreement is about is logistics.

Right now any natural gas New Mexico wants to sell to Asia — and Taiwan in particular — goes through Houston. That means transporting the gas to the Gulf of Mexico where it is liquified to be put into ships which have to go through the Panama Canal, a process that adds time and cost.

Sending the gas by pipeline to Guayamas on the Sea of Cortez — what is called the Gulf of California in the United States — expedites the process.

The latest version of cross-border cooperation comes amid the ongoing rhetoric of the Trump administration decrying what the president has said have been unfair trade deals with our southern neighbors. Ducey said to ignore all that.

“I think there’s a difference between rhetoric and actions,” he said.

“The actions that I’ve seen are the recent signings of the USMCA,” the governor continued, short for the United States-Mexico-Canada agreement, “which is basically a new and improved NAFTA,” the now defunct North American Free Trade Agreement.

“I’m hopeful for more of those types of actions,” Ducey continued. “Those are going to be what I’m going to be advocating for out of the governor’s office.”

And if nothing else, he said, Arizona will continue its own separate relationship with Mexico regardless of what is coming out of Washington.

The major beneficiary of the deal could be Sonora which will have to construct a plant to convert the natural gas into liquid form.

“It’s going to be jobs for everyone right there,” Pavlovich said, though she declined to speculate on what that would produce in actual dollars or pesos.

Future hinges on new energy infrastructure

Daniel Baldonado, a contract worker for a steel fabrication company, Ironco Enterprises, installs a series of solar panels on the roof of Wells Fargo Arena on Arizona State University’s Tempe campus in 2011. (Photo by Brandon Quester/Cronkite News)

The U.S. energy market is changing more rapidly and dramatically than anyone would have predicted. A steep decline in the price of solar-generated electricity, combined with the rising cost of coal and gas-fired electricity, has turned energy economics on its head. This is particularly true here in the Southwest. 

For example, solar+storage projects being built today are selling electricity below $25 per megawatt hour (MWh), and guaranteeing that price for the next two decades. By contrast, the price of natural gas-generated electricity is roughly double that and projected to get more expensive over time. Coal generation today is even more costly. 

David Jenkins

This can be a true game-changer here in Arizona, a state blessed with the some of the strongest solar rays in the nation. That means this state has virtually limitless potential to take advantage of these new market realities 

Replacing aging coal and gas plants as they are retired with much cheaper solar+storage will not only save Arizonan’s money in lower electric bills, it will also spur economic growth. Cheaper electricity attracts companies from out of state and fuels business expansion. 

The only real question mark is the speed of that transition here in Arizona. Will it be slow and sporadic, beset by inadequate infrastructure and regulatory uncertainty, or will it—along with those associated economic benefits—speed along quickly with the necessary level of planning and investment? 

As a fiscal conservative, I worry a great deal about the massive spending binge our nation has been on over the past few years. Too often, we seem to spend money on everything but the things we need most. Nowhere is that more apparent than in our neglect of infrastructure. 

Despite all of that federal spending, we have not even kept up with the repair and maintenance needs of essential assets like bridges, roads, sewage treatment plants, and dams. Digging ourselves out of that backlog will take time. 

With energy infrastructure, we simply do not have the luxury of time. 

The choice is to either keep up with a rapidly changing energy market that promises to reduce energy costs and boost our economy, or fail to do so and be stuck relying on aging natural gas and coal-fired generation that becomes more costly by the day. 

Does anyone really want to pay between $60 and $100 per MWh for electricity generated by old gas and coal plants, when we can pay less than $25 per MWh for electricity from solar? Companies looking for the best place to build or relocate certainly do not. 

This new energy market offers incredible opportunity, but maximizing that opportunity requires additional transmission and distribution infrastructure, smart grid technology, robust security and resilience measures, and policies that foster more U.S. production of key components. 

Our energy landscape is also changing rapidly in the transportation sector. Virtually every semi-truck manufacturer is rolling out all electric trucks. Companies like Walmart, Anheuser Busch, and UPS have already placed orders. UPS has also ordered more than 10,000 delivery vans. Amazon has ordered ten times that, deploying 100,000 over the next decade. 

On top of that, General Motors announced plans to produce only electric passenger cars and trucks by 2035. 

This electrification of our transportation sector also requires additional energy infrastructure. Most importantly, a comprehensive nationwide network of electric vehicle charging stations and deployment of ultra-fast charging capability (10-12 minutes). 

Building that EV charging network today will be the biggest boon to the transportation of goods across the U.S. since President Dwight D. Eisenhower developed our nation’s interstate highway system. 

Valid concerns about spending should not derail the smart energy investments contained in the pending infrastructure bills before Congress, as those will pay for themselves many times over in future economic development. 

Nowhere is this more critical than solar-rich Arizona, a state that stands to benefit disproportionally from federal investments in this new energy market. 

Should we fail to make these necessary investments today, much of this great new economic opportunity will be lost — crumbling away far faster than the most neglected bridge or highway. 

David Jenkins is president of Conservatives for Responsible Stewardship, a national organization with more than 800 members in Arizona. 


Renewable energy investment crucial to grow Arizona economy


It’s been more than a decade since the Arizona Corporation Commission approved the Renewable Energy Standard and Tariff, requiring Arizona utilities to generate 15 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2025.

So much has changed since the Republican-led commission in 2006 moved our state toward a healthier and more prosperous future in clean energy.

Indeed, Arizona was a trailblazer for this forward-looking policy. But sadly, we’ve fallen behind. Over the past year, many other states have begun moving towards higher renewable energy standards.

Fred Davis
Fred Davis

The commission is once again poised to discuss its renewable energy policy, and it’s unclear whether commissioners have the wherewithal to increase it, let alone keep it in place.

Here’s a fact: If Arizona doesn’t get on board, we will be sidelined as spectators watching other states reap the economic benefits of solar, wind and other clean resources.

Why? Renewable energy resources have become readily available and are now more affordable than their fossil-fuel counterparts like gas and coal. Study after study from credible, independent sources show that solar and wind are the cheapest technology for producing electricity.

Thankfully, SRP has responded to these lower costs with plans for 1,000 megawatts of solar. In contrast, APS plans only 100 megawatts of solar and will buy energy produced by natural gas, imported from other states.

In fact, APS’s 2017 annual report shows its ownership of solar to be less than 10 percent of the total power they sell. APS ratepayers and Arizona citizens deserve better from our largest electric utility company in the state.

Other states are shutting down natural gas plants and replacing them with cheaper solar and batteries. Yet, APS is paying a third party to produce our power with natural gas. That production and the vast majority of those jobs reside out of state.

While renewable energy has proven to offer lower emissions, we must also consider the significant impact it has on in-state job growth, economic development and benefits for large and small businesses. As more renewable energy practices are established and implemented in Arizona, more jobs will be created. From construction to advanced technology jobs, Arizona employment will see an immediate uptick.

As a ratepayer, I would like for the power I use to be clean, cheap and healthy. And made by Arizona workers with abundant Arizona sunshine. Raising the renewable energy standard to meet or even exceed the goals of other states should be strongly supported. Raising our standards not only means getting on board with the goals of other states, but also sends the message that Arizona is an economic leader.

We all know that implementing higher renewable energy standards in Arizona will help reduce emissions, diversify our energy and set the stage for a sustainable future – and that’s important.

But, investing in the business of renewable energy is crucial for supporting a growing Arizona economy.

Fred Davis is a concerned Arizona resident. 

Southwest Gas rate hike addiction goes too far

By David Jenkins

After securing a steep 9.7% rate hike that went into effect in 2021, Southwest Gas is requesting yet another dip into its customers’ wallets. The ask is for another increase of 7.6% for residential customers and 13.7% for small businesses.

If the Arizona Corporation Commission approves this new rate hike at its January 10 meeting, Southwest Gas customers will be hit with a rise in service charges of between 17.3% and 24.3% since 2021.

This is all on top of the actual price of natural gas, which is roughly double what it was last year.

In its latest rate hike proposal, the monopoly gas utility wants customers to shell out for increased shareholder profits, subsidizing its line extensions to new customers, board of director expenses, and even its trade association membership dues.

Saddling customers with such costs, especially when natural gas prices are already stretching household budgets, is as tone deaf as it is greedy.

David Jenkins

This is even more audacious given that the natural gas industry, due to its aggressive pursuit of lucrative overseas markets, is directly responsible for skyrocketing gas prices in this country.

Natural gas prices in the U.S. have been low historically because gas produced domestically could only be sold in North American markets. There was no way to ship it overseas. That all changed with the industry’s rapid expansion of liquefied natural gas production and construction of LNG shipping terminals.

This was by design. Our domestic gas industry was eager to export natural gas to Asia and Europe, where it commands higher prices. Those higher overseas prices, along with increased demand from a global market, forever ended the era of cheap natural gas here in the U.S.

The impact of this was magnified further with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the resulting urgency by Europe to wean itself off Russian natural gas.

Higher natural gas prices not only affect gas bills. They also increase people’s electric bills, which includes the cost of summer air conditioning, because gas-fired generation plants produce much of Arizona’s electricity.

So now, on top of all that, Southwest Gas wants to shift more costs of doing business onto the backs of its customers. Going even as far as having customers pay for its membership dues to the American Gas Association (AGA).

What does the AGA do? The AGA lobbies for the interests of its member companies, interests that are often at odds with what is best for ratepayers. For example, the AGA has been working to “expand global markets for natural gas,” a key factor driving up energy prices here.

Southwest Gas is also proposing that its current customers subsidize the cost of running gas lines to new housing developments and businesses. In other words, it wants customers to shoulder the company’s cost for expanding its business into new areas to gain more customers.

Running these new gas lines has absolutely nothing to do with delivering gas or service to existing customers. The only benefit is additional profit for Southwest Gas and its shareholders.

Apparently, it’s not enough that Southwest Gas is a monopoly with a captive customer base that is completely shielded from free market competition, the company has been allowed by the ACC to shift more and more of its investment and operating expenses onto the backs of ratepayers.

It is hard to imagine how anyone who goes along with this grift can, with a straight face, claim to be acting in the best interest of ratepayers.

That is why the upcoming vote on Southwest Gas’s latest rate increase request presents a real test for incoming ACC Commissioners Kevin Thompson and Nick Meyers.

Each man claims to be a ratepayer advocate, and a central part of their campaign was the promise to fight for the best interests of utility customers and keep energy bills low.

Voting for such an unfair rate hike as their first official act would certainly make that promise ring hollow.

David Jenkins is president of Conservatives for Responsible Stewardship, a national organization with more than 800 Arizona members.

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.

SRP’s baffling, costly natural gas expansion

Arizona residents who get their electricity from Salt River Project should be outraged at the utility’s proposal to expand its Coolidge Generating Station by adding — in utter defiance of the current energy market — 16 new natural gas generation units.

The U.S. power generation market has changed dramatically over the past five years. Natural gas has been bleeding market share to cheaper sources of electricity, which include solar, wind, and even nuclear.

David Jenkins

At roughly $5 per MMbtu, the price of natural gas today is more than double what it was just two years ago. Even at half of that price, natural gas has been unable to compete with solar in the Southwest.

New solar generated electricity paired with storage is selling electricity for between $15 and $25 per megawatt hour (MWh), while electricity generated from natural gas plants has been selling anywhere between $45 and $73 per MWh.

This price difference is only going to widen as Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine has sent natural gas price forecasts sharply upward.

Adding new gas generation now makes zero sense for SRP ratepayers, as it will saddle them with higher electric bills going forward — due to both the ever-rising price of gas, and the likelihood that these new units will become so uneconomical that they will have to be retired early, thus becoming costly stranded assets.

Before recent events in Europe, the Energy Information Agency projected that natural gas prices would more than double by 2030. They blew past that in just two years.

Now, the urgent need for European countries to be free of their longstanding dependence on Russian gas has further altered the market. Because much of that Russian supply is being replaced with liquefied natural gas from this country, global demand for U.S. gas is increasing, which will drive domestic natural gas prices higher for the foreseeable future.

Despite all this, SRP is plowing ahead with its plan to double down on natural gas generation. The only thing standing in the way of this costly and boneheaded expansion is an upcoming vote by the Arizona Corporation Commission.

If the ACC cares a wit about Arizona ratepayers, it will reject SRP’s plan to add 16 new gas generation units at Coolidge.

A simple review of energy news from around the country shows what happens when utilities are too heavily dependent on natural gas. One good example of this comes via a recent story from a Fox News outlet in Florida. It reports that the big three electric utilities in that state are all dumping their added natural gas costs onto the backs of customers.

The same is true across the country. For example, when a Pennsylvania man’s utility bill jumped $200 in January the utility attributed it to higher natural gas prices.

This trend continuing is both certain and obvious. You will not find an independent energy market analyst who projects natural gas generated electricity as ever being price competitive with solar generated electricity going forward.

Anyone who somehow still argues that natural gas generation will positively affect ratepayer utility bills is ignoring literally every signal the market has been sending for the past five years.

It is truly hard to understand SRP’s rationale for this market-defying — and logic-defying — proposal, but it is telling that this monopoly utility chose not to issue a competitive all-source bid for this project. In other words, SRP rigged its decision in favor of gas by not allowing cheaper options to compete.

According to FAQs about the project on its SRP’s website, the company points to lack of experience with battery technology and cloudiness as concerns that steered it away from solar and storage.

Cloudiness? Arizona is the sunniest state in America with roughly 300 sunny days per year.

It seems obvious that SRP shaped its Coolidge expansion decisions to meet internal biases and motives that have nothing to do with providing its customers with the cheapest electricity.

Approving this expansion will saddle ratepayers with huge utility bills for decades, while denying them the clear cost savings and price stability of Arizona solar.

The ACC should just say no.

David Jenkins is president of Conservatives for Responsible Stewardship, a national organization with more than 800 members in Arizona.




Top 5 reasons why SRP should not expand Coolidge gas generating station

The Salt River Project District board on Sept. 13 approved a nearly $900 million expansion of the Coolidge Generating Station, which burns natural gas. The decision is wrong for SRP customers and for all Arizonans, for a variety of reasons. Here are the top five: 

  1. Our climate is heating up, and there is no time left to waste to turn to clean energy.

 The most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report has shown that this decade is our last chance to transform our energy system to zero greenhouse gas emissions before irreversible damage is done to our climate. Producing, transmitting, storing, and burning natural gas emits greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane. Expanding the Coolidge Power Plant would lock SRP into using natural gas for decades, at the precise time when we need to be moving away from fossil-fuel sources and toward clean energy-efficiency and renewable-energy technologies. 

  1. Natural gas power plants are a poor investment and will cost customers money for years to come.
Lauren Kuby
Lauren Kuby

The utility claims they will use Coolidge as a “peaker plant” and will run only when demand is high. If true, it is a terrible strategy to not pay back or profit from your investment. Solar and wind are already cost-competitive with new natural gas plants and, when used dynamically with other technologies like batteries, energy-efficiency measures, and demand-response programs, provide reliable electric service during peak-use times. SRP should have issued a technology-neutral, competitive procurement process to discover the most affordable option for SRP customers. In addition to plant costs, customers will have to pay for the generating fuel. In fact, SRP customers are about to see an average 3.9% increase in their bill solely due to natural gas and other fuel costs. With energy efficiency and renewable technologies, there are no fuels and no fuel-related costs. The sad fact is that customers will be on the hook for this massive investment for several decades — whether the plant and its fuel are economical or not. In addition, expanding the gas plant will impede progress on renewable-energy adoption as special interests seek out politicians to protect their investment. 

  1. The reliability of natural gas is overstated.

 Did you know Arizona must transport all of its natural gas fuel from other states? Last winter, when most of Texas froze over, oil and gas wells stopped producing, which led to a natural gas shortage. In fact, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott threatened to stop natural gas supplies from shipping to other states, and gas prices spiked. Here in Arizona, utilities asked customers to conserve electricity during that time, in the event of a statewide gas shortage. Extreme weather also impacts natural gas power plants. In extreme weather, gas plants experience a decrease in output and, across the globe, unusually hot summers have led to gas plants completely shutting down, leading to blackouts. 

  1. Natural gas uses our precious water resources.

Recent groundwater supply models have found that Pinal County’s groundwater will be stressed in the coming decades. Natural gas steam turbine units, like the ones at the Coolidge Power Plant, use water to operate. Arizona is already water-stressed, and this situation will only worsen. SRP should be looking to other resources that do not dry up our state’s precious, and nonrenewable, water supplies. 

  1. Natural gas is unsafe.

In just the past month, Arizona experienced two explosions, and both blasts are suspected to be caused by natural gas pipeline leaks. One explosion occurred in Coolidge, across the street from the Coolidge Gas Generating Station. Tragically, two people were killed, including a child, and third person was severely injured. The other explosion occurred in Chandler, causing severe injury to four people and forcing families and businesses to evacuate for hours. While actual explosions are somewhat uncommon, gas leaks are not. Gas leaks expose all Arizonans to unnecessary risks not found with renewables or energy efficiency technologies. Natural gas is bad for our environment and human health. Other technologies like solar and energy efficiency offer cost-competitive reliability for our electric grid. The SRP board should outright reject this proposed natural gas plant expansion and embrace clean energy for a better future for all Arizonans.  

Lauren Kuby is a two-term Tempe councilmember, a senior global futures scientist at Arizona State University, and a candidate for the Arizona Corporation Commission. 

 Editor’s note: This guest commentary was revised to reflect the SRP board’s approval of the project.