SRP could move forward with construction of a controversial power plant in Pinal County

SRP could move forward with construction of a controversial power plant in Pinal County

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A judge has given the Salt River Project the green light to expand electricity production at its controversial Pinal County power plant, ruling a two-year legal battle.

The Maricopa County Superior Court on Jan. 22 upheld the Arizona Corporation Commission’s approval of an SRP to add capacity using natural gas generators at the Coolidge Generating Station. The plant is located east of the historically black, low-income community of Randolph.

The Sierra Club and some Randolph residents initially opposed the expansion, and the Corporation Commission initially refused to issue a certificate of environmental compliance for the project.

But the commission later approved a revised plan under which the SRP would reduce the number of new generators from 16 to 12, not add any more units there, agreed to locate the new generators away from the community and limit annual capacity to 30 percent of the new units.

The utilities also agreed to fund a new community center in the community of a few hundred residents, create a fund to rehabilitate Randolph homes, provide additional scholarship money for residents and provide other benefits.

Judge Randall Warner disagreed with the Sierra Club’s argument that the commission rushed to approve the expansion proposal. Instead, he ruled that the commission acted appropriately in approving the Sam Runcie Party’s revised plan.

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The environmental group called the result “discouraging,” but did not say whether it would appeal.

The group is considering other options, spokeswoman Amy Dominguez said in an email to The Arizona Republic.

She also pointed to overall emissions risks in the area, such as the F grade the American Lung Association gave Pinal County last year for air quality.

“The ACC approved the revised project without holding a hearing or obtaining any evidence regarding the impact of these changes,” the environmental group said in a prepared statement. “The Commission should have held a new evidentiary hearing so that the Commission, stakeholders and the public could understand and evaluate the need for the revised project and the environmental impacts.”

The court disagreed, deciding that the committee had made sufficient findings and collected substantial evidence to support its decision. The court also determined that the commission did not violate the Sierra Club’s rights to due process even though the group said it should have been able to question SRP officials at the June 2023 meeting when the project was approved.

The Sierra Club said the expansion project would create decades of new air pollution.

“Today’s decision is extremely disappointing and carries significant public health implications that Randolph residents will face every day Coolidge spews its choking emissions,” Randolph resident Jeff Jordan said in a statement issued by the Sierra Club. “We will live with the decisions made by the commissioners and district courts while our health is on the line and they are off the hook.”

Sandy Bahr, director of the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon chapter, said the court gave the SRP “permit to operate outside the scope of process and procedures,” as the ruling sets “a precedent that public utilities can get away with not following the rules.”

She also cited health concerns.

The expansion will help provide energy to 139,000 homes

SRP said it is pleased with the court’s decision allowing the utility to build and operate a significant generation expansion that supports SRP’s ongoing work with Randolph residents.

SRP said in its statement that the expansion will provide enough energy to serve more than 139,000 medium-sized homes, and will support the integration of solar, wind and battery storage complexes such as the large new complex that will be located nearby.

“Like all of SRP’s generating facilities, it will comply with all local, state and federal air quality regulations, which protect human health and the environment,” the company said.

Contact the writer at russ.wiles@arizonarepublic.com or 602-444-8616.

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