Tucson Electric Power looks to advice of citizens, businesses to create renewable goals

Published on July 22, 2019 by Jaclyn Brandt

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Tucson Electric Power (TEP) is making plans to create a more sustainable future for Arizona by reducing the company’s reliance on coal, and will seek input from a new advisory committee tasked with helping the utility develop new carbon emission reduction goals.

TEP filed its 2019 Preliminary Integrated Resource Plan (PIRP) with the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) in early July, which outlines the utility’s 15-year plan to increase sustainability.

“Although TEP is on track to surpass its ambitious renewable energy goal of doubling the state requirement by expanding the use of wind and solar, we’re no longer satisfied with simply counting green kilowatts to gauge our progress toward greater sustainability,” said TEP President and CEO David G. Hutchens. “Our commitment to improving the quality of life in our community, both now and well into the future, has motivated us to develop new, more comprehensive goals that will be focused on reducing greenhouse gases as quickly as possible while maintaining affordable and reliable service for our customers.”

TEP is using global temperature limits from the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change as the baseline for new goals, but the company is also being supported by climate change experts at the University of Arizona’s Institute of the Environment to relate those goals to Arizona limits. TEP is working with those experts to develop a final IRP for 2020.

“We’re pleased to be working with TEP to look for opportunities to cut greenhouse gas emissions. The idea is to help TEP set a goal that is scientifically based,” said project leader Andrea K. Gerlak, an associate professor with the School of Geography & Development in the University of Arizona’s College of Social & Behavioral Sciences. “Our process will consider how climate change is impacting our community and how we can set a goal that is sensitive to our community and reflects the best available science. It’s very much a collaborative process.”

Cost effectiveness will also be a factor in the final IRP, and TEP is working with researchers with the Institute of the Environment to find the best ways to make their goals sustainable, reliable, and affordable.

“All three aspects are very important and do sometimes conflict, which can create challenges during the resource planning process,” said Joseph Barrios, supervisor of Media Relations and Regulatory Communications with Tucson Electric Power & UniSource Energy Services. “Ultimately, making good resource planning decisions involves understanding the tradeoffs and trying to create the appropriate balance. Another factor to consider is risk, which is essentially weighing the other three factors against a range of possible future conditions.”

TEP has created a new community stakeholder advisory committee, which will be made up of “customers, community leaders and advocacy groups,” according to the company, which supplies electric service to roughly 425,000 customers in Southern Arizona.

“We wanted to create opportunities to have meaningful, thoughtful conversations with stakeholders who hold varying interests and opinions about how we provide power and how we plan for our customers future energy needs,” Barrios explained. “Not only will these conversations inform our resource planning decisions, they’ll provide committee members with opportunities to learn more about how we make resource planning decisions.”

Barrios added that one of TEP’s primary objectives in establishing the committee is to “suggest alternative portfolios and scenarios they want us to model. We hope that will produce a broad variety of potential future conditions for us to choose from in developing the final IRP.”

The advisory committee will include customers, community organizations, and other stakeholders that make up a variety of interests. Barrios said the most important part was finding local members of the community.

“Balancing interests is a key aspect of the resource planning process, so we’re continually weighing how our resource decisions might affect reliability, cost to our customers, safety and system resiliency,” Barrios said. “However, each member is an expert in their respective areas and their opinions will be considered.”

Advisory committee members include experts from the University of Arizona’s Institute of the Environment, Sierra Club, Residential Utility Consumer Office (RUCO), Southwest Energy Efficiency Project, Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Pima Council on Aging, local governments, and Wildfire (which advocates for limited-income residents). Members include representatives from both residential and commercial customers.

TEP’s preliminary plan named many goals, including increasing its renewable portfolio to 30 percent of its power by 2030; placing 446 megawatts (MW) of new wind and solar projects by the end of 2020; and retiring more than 600 MW of coal-fired generation by 2022.

“While working toward our goal of achieving 30 percent renewables by 2030, we’ll also work to reduce our reliance on coal through planned retirements,” Barrios said, including the Navajo Generating Station by the end of 2019 and the San Juan Generating Station’s Unit 1 by the end of June 2022.

TEP’s coal-fired generation is currently 55 percent of its portfolio, but the company plans to reduce this to 45 percent by 2021 and 38 percent by 2023.

“Our customers are strongly in favor of expanding renewable resources and we continue to explore cost effective methods [of] adding more wind and solar,” Barrios said. “As renewable technologies have advanced, the cost of investing in renewable resources has fallen. Replacing aging generating resources with more sustainable resources simply makes sense. Timing is critical. Sometimes we need to act expeditiously to take advantage of favorable market conditions or incentives. In other circumstances, patience could provide the best strategy because it allows time for technologies to advance while becoming more affordable.”