Salt River Project’s (SRP) application to expand its Coolidge Generating Station was denied an application rehearing by a 3-2 vote of the Arizona Corporation Commission June 6, following an April 4-1 decision against the plan.
SRP’s permit application sought to add 16 85-foot natural gas turbines, able to generate up to 820 megawatts of power, to the 12 in place at the site on Randolph Road, which is within the Coolidge city limits. It is closest to homes in the small, unincorporated, historically Black community of Randolph.
Opposition came from residents based on current and future health concerns and a history of unequal treatment, as well as from the Sierra Club and other environmental groups.
The commission said SRP did not provide adequate documentation to support its request, didn’t give enough consideration to alternative fuel sources such as solar, and offered inadequate mitigation measures for Randolph residents.
It said the expansion would “have significant negative impacts on residents in Randolph from noise levels during construction and operation of the project, increased lighting, emissions of greenhouse gases, worsened air quality, degraded views, and lower property values.”
SRP then applied for a rehearing of the application. The utility said it would be willing to reduce the number of new turbines to 12 and offered additional reparations for Randolph residents, including a new community center, home repairs and additional paved roads.
Earlier mitigations included road paving, beautification projects and funding for job skills training and scholarships.
SRP also contested several of the findings made by the commission before the first vote, saying the application was complete, and commission members had no legal authority to deny the request on some of the grounds they cited.
Albert Acken, an attorney representing SRP, said the project would have little to no negative impact on the surrounding area. He said not being able to expand the generating station “will impair the reliability of SRP’s system, dramatically increase costs and risks for SR’s customers, and result in no material environmental benefits.”
SRP said increasing demand from its customers in the Phoenix metro area and others throughout the Southwest is straining the regional electrical grid, creating a projected need for it to produce 700 more megawatts by 2023 to avoid shortfalls by the summer of 2024. SRP representative said alternative sources such as solar panels and battery storage could not generate power with the same reliability and cost within that timeline.
Randolph residents continued opposing the resubmitted application, saying the added mitigation measures would not make up for past and future harms and they did not want to continue to suffer a lower quality of life when they would not see any benefit from it.
Randolph native Darnell Sells said in a written comment dated May 31: “This is a case of structural and environmental racism with the big payoff for stakeholders at the expense of the vulnerable and marginalized.”
Randolph and Coolidge are not within SRP’s service area.
After the June 6 meeting, SRP said in a statement it will consider other options to meet customer demand and could seek “judicial review.”