Arizona regulators hope to put hold on utilities’ gas-fired ambitions

Arizona regulators are scuttling plans by the state’s utilities to massively expand natural gas-fired generation until they take time to officially study and report on the cost comparisons with alternative energy and storage options.

The Corporation Commission voted 3-2 earlier this week not to acknowledge long-term integrated resource plans by Arizona Public Service, Tucson Electric Power and Unisource Energy Services. The decision is not final but seeks to put a moratorium on procuring or building natural gas plants of more than 150 MW unless the utility “has conducted an independent analysis comparing the present and future costs between the specific natural gas procurement and alternative energy storage options and Staff reviewed that analysis,” according to the ACC’s proposed amendment by Commissioner Andrew Tobin.

Despite the temporary nature of the commission’s decision, clean energy advocates applauded the stand taken by the majority of members.

 “The unprecedented level of public engagement in this process underscores that Arizona is a state where people want clean energy and energy efficiency and all the benefits they bring,” said Ellen Zuckerman with the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project in a statement. “The ACC’s decision to start getting the utilities better in sync with public appetite for cleaner energy resources and cost savings is good to see.”

Arizona utilities, including the Arizona Public Service (APS) Solar Partner project, have been moving toward greater renewable integration in recent years, but apparently not at a place satisfactory to solar advocates such as Tobin and others. Tobin wants a modernization plan calling for 80 percent renewables by 2032, but his projections are not in line with the utility’s long-term resource planning.

APS’ 2017 Integrated Resource Plan, for instance, anticipates a near doubling of natural gas capacity to 8,713 MW by 2032, but only a 35 percent rise in solar capacity to 686 MW. The utility’s energy storage capacity was at zero last year, but it predicts a 397 MW level in 15 years.

“While energy requirements are projected to grow over the Planning Period by over 50 percent, APS continues to reduce both CO2 and water consumption per unit of electricity consumed by 23 percent and 29 percent respectively,” the APS plan reads.

Arizona is third in the Solar Energy Industries Association’s ranking of the top 10 states for solar capacity installed through 2016, behind top-ranked California and North Carolina. The state has close to 3,000 MW of installed solar power capacity, according to SEIA.

Phoenix, the state’s biggest city, fell from third to fifth place among cities for installed solar capacity last year, according to the annual Shining Cities report by Environment America.


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