APS officials are noncommittal on Cholla Power Plant’s future

By Chanae Nielson

Arizona Public Service Co. is moving into 2017 with a continued effort to move toward renewable energy. With that endeavor comes the uncertainty of the future of coal-fired plants such as Cholla Power Plant in Joseph City.

Last year APS shut down Unit 2 of the plant. According to Anne DeGraw, a communications consultant with media relations at APS, a final decision on the plant’s closure has yet to be made as they await the directives of a new federal administration, but the outcome doesn’t appear promising.

     “Economics is the biggest issue we face and then there’re also the regulations. In addition to EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) regulations, there are regional haze rules that can affect when the coal burning plants are allowed to operate,” said DeGraw. “Economically it is much cheaper and easier to burn natural gas. It can be turned on right away when power is needed, and it’s much cheaper to build and maintain the plant.”

     To comply with increasing federal regulations, continued operation of the plant would require more infrastructure. Just one selective catalytic reduction unit (or scrubber), which is designed to cut down on nitrogen oxide emissions, can cost millions to purchase and install. Ultimately, the cost of keeping the plant open and operating would then be passed on to the consumer.

     Although the option to convert the plant to a natural gas station remains under research and consideration, DeGraw does not anticipate any changes in the operations of Units 1, 3 and 4 for the coming year.

     Informally, the company continues its efforts to meet increasing EPA requirements for clean air production. This past year also saw the implementation and completion of a number of APS programs in other counties designed to conduct research on supplying power with solar and investigate other ways to supply power more efficiently during peak demands.

     “What we’re trying to do is figure out the best way to integrate renewables into the system so they are available and affordable to everyone,” said APS Manager of Public Affairs Jim McDonald.

“Right now about half the electricity going into the grid is carbon free,” noted McDonald, who added that this is due in part to supply from solar farms the company operates and predominately to the Palo Verde Nuclear Plant.

     In June 2016, the company also requested a rate review for the first time in more than five years. Although there is no set schedule for completing the review, company officials hope to hear back by July.

APS is also planning to do preventative maintenance activities on the power lines in the area and continues to research ways to determine the best courses of action for the future.

     “We have a top performing system and we are always looking for ways to make it better,” said DeGraw.

“We like to have our system in its best shape before the start of storm season. In Navajo County this happens twice each year, winter storms and summer storms. Right now we are focusing on specific improvement projects for our lines in each of the following areas: Winslow, Holbrook, Woodruff and Snowflake.

“The Woodruff project involves strengthening the lines to prevent them from breaking in the wind and weather. The Holbrook and Winslow projects are similar.  They are targeting the replacement of poles and cross-arms, as well as strengthening the wires for snow and wind. The Snowflake project is primarily focused around animal protection, mostly birds, and lightning prevention,” DeGraw concluded, noting that weather is one of the top reasons for power outages in this area.