Activists urge Arizona Public Service to shut Cholla coal plant

Local community members rallied outside Arizona Public Service (APS) headquarters in downtown Phoenix on Dec. 3 to urge the utility to commit to a clean energy transition from the aging Cholla coal-fired power plant.

The Sierra Club noted in a Dec. 3 statement that earlier this year, APS announced plans to continue burning coal at Cholla for at least the next decade, while failing to make any substantial commitment to transition to clean energy like rooftop solar. Representatives from the Sierra Club, Arizona Interfaith Power & Light (AZIPL), Chispa, and other groups presented APS CEO Don Brandt with more than 6,000 petition signatures urging the utility to commit to a clean energy transition from the Cholla plant.

“Our state and community stand at a cross-roads: dirty coal or clean energy. It’s time to build a clean energy economy that values Arizona families over big polluter profits. Let’s begin by transitioning away from coal at the Cholla coal-fired power plant and create renewable energy jobs for workers, clean air for us all, and a healthy future for our children,” said Pastor Doug Bland, Tempe Community Christian Church and Arizona Interfaith Power & Light.

“Dirty coal-fired power plants like Cholla are polluting our air, contaminating our water, contributing to climate change and holding us back from building strong, clean energy economies. Here in Arizona, 90% of Latinos want to see APS use more clean energy. Over 70% of Latinos believe that if APS generated more clean energy, we would reduce pollution, strengthen our economy and improve our health,” said Pedro Lopez, Program Director for Chispa. “APS, our utility company, needs to work for us, not against us.”

In September, APS announced its plans to phase out coal at three units of the Cholla coal-fired power plant by the mid 2020s, starting with one unit in 2016. PacifiCorp, which owns one unit at the Cholla plant, has announced its intentions to cease burning coal at the Cholla plant by 2025. Both utilities have indicated interest in converting the plant to natural gas rather than taking this opportunity to tap into Arizona’s immense clean energy potential, the Sierra Club said.

In 2013, the Sierra Club claimed that APS “led the assault” to weaken Arizona’s net metering policies by proposing a new $50-$100 surcharge on rooftop solar installations in the state. The proposed solar fee was opposed by a diverse coalition of organizations. The Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) ultimately approved a smaller, $5 fee on rooftop solar customers.

According to Environment Arizona, Arizona has the potential to produce more than 320 times the state’s energy needs from solar power, including rooftop installations. Despite recent attempts to stifle the state’s solar industry, Arizona still ranks second in the nation with nearly 9,000 jobs in the solar industry.

Arizona Public Service tentatively plans to shut one Cholla unit in 2016

The 260-MW Unit 2 at the Cholla plant will close by April 2016, with coal burn halted at the other APS-owned units (1 and 3) at Cholla by the mid-2020s, if the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approves a compromise proposal offered by APS. APS said in September that it made the proposal with the understanding that it would not be required to install expensive emission control equipment on the units to comply with current rules under EPA’s Regional Haze program. The environmental benefits of this proposal are greater in the long term than the benefits that would have resulted from adding the emissions control equipment.

In 2010, APS was notified that Unit 2 needed to upgrade its SO2 scrubbers and add a baghouse system to meet the new Mercury and Air Toxic Standards. In 2012, the EPA published a federal implementation plan, which overrides certain parts of Arizona’s plan to deal with regional haze. The federal plan requires Cholla Units 2 and 3 to add expensive Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) technology to cut NOX emissions.

APS has been closing older, less reliable units and replacing them with newer, cleaner and more efficient sources of energy. This includes closing three units at the coal-fired Four Corners Power Plant in Farmington, N.M., and two units at the gas-fired Ocotillo Power Plant in Tempe, Ariz.

The 995-MW Cholla plant is located in northeastern Arizona near Holbrook. APS operates the plant and owns Units 1, 2 and 3, which are capable of producing 615 MW. PacifiCorp owns the 380-MW Unit 4.

APS, Arizona’s largest and longest-serving electricity utility, serves nearly 1.2 million customers in 11 of the state’s 15 counties. With headquarters in Phoenix, APS is the principal subsidiary of Pinnacle West Capital Corp. (NYSE: PNW).

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.