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Judge approves SRP gas power plant expansion near Coolidge

Published: Wednesday, January 24, 2024 - 4:26pm
Updated: Wednesday, January 24, 2024 - 5:13pm

A Maricopa County Superior Court judge upheld a decision by Arizona utility regulators to allow SRP to expand its gas power plant near Coolidge.

The legal dispute over the expansion dates back to April 2022, when the Arizona Corporation Commission denied SRP’s application to add 16 new units to the facility, more than doubling its size. The decision came after the Sierra Club and residents of Randolph, a historically black community neighboring the plant, said it would negatively affect the environment and residents’ health.

SRP challenged that initial decision, but a judge found the Corporation Commission acted within its authority in denying the application.

But the Corporation Commission reversed their decision in June 2023 after two new members — both Republicans — were elected in 2022. New commissioners Kevin Thompson and Nick Myers voted in favor of the expansion.

They were joined by Republicans Jim O’Connor and Lea Márquez Peterson, who had voted against the expansion in 2022. They changed their votes after SRP agreed to additional concessions benefiting the Randolph neighbors, including reducing the size of the expansion and investing $23 million in community projects.

Some residents of Randolph supported those concessions, though they stopped short of actually backing SRP’s application to the Corporation Commission, according to Arizona Capitol Times.

“They support the settlements, not the CEC, and they don’t oppose the CEC,” said Dianne Post, an attorney representing the residents. “I understand this is a very fine line, but this is the line they drew.”

Attorneys for the Sierra Club appealed the June 2023 approval, arguing SRP’s new application differed substantially from its original plan and the utility should be required to restart the application process at the Corporation.

But Judge Randall Warner sided with SRP. He found the changes did not require SRP to file a new application because they did not increase the plant’s environmental impact.  

“The changes here reduced the size of the project by 25%, moved the new generating units further from the Randolph community, and limited the amount of time those new units could run,” Warner wrote. “It was within the Commission discretion to deem those changes insubstantial … because they did not increase the project’s environmental impact.”

The Sierra Club — and some Randolph residents — criticized the decision.

“Today’s decision is deeply disappointing, and carries significant public health implications that Randolph residents will contend with each day that Coolidge spews its suffocating emissions,” resident Jeff Jordan said.

A spokeswoman for the Sierra Club said it is now “evaluating our options,” when asked if the organization plans to appeal the decision. 

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