Field Notes

Spring 2024

Powering Progress in Arizona

With no formal targets to combat climate change and no dedicated energy department, the state stands at a crossroads, poised to either embrace change or remain shackled to outdated practices.


The electricity sector – heavily reliant on fossil fuels and a major contributor to greenhouse gas pollution – stands in the way of progress toward fighting climate change. This means we need to take urgent action to secure a sustainable future. WRA is working across the region to put the major utilities on a pathway to meet the science-based standard of reducing greenhouse gas emissions at least 80% by 2030. 

However, the challenge we face is not just about reducing emissions; it’s about understanding that climate change is a cumulative emissions problem. As greenhouse gases accumulate in the atmosphere, the impacts snowball, intensifying and compounding with each passing year as new emissions are added. This underscores the urgency of our mission – we must curb emissions now, before it’s too late. Every ton of carbon dioxide avoided today is infinitely more valuable than one avoided in the distant future.  

In Arizona, this urgency is exacerbated by a unique blend of complex political dynamics, regulatory challenges, and the need for decisive action. With no formal targets to combat climate change and no dedicated energy department, the state stands at a crossroads, poised to either embrace change or remain shackled to outdated practices. 

Window of Opportunity 

Arizona’s energy landscape is marked by contradictions – a state rich in renewable energy potential yet lacking a comprehensive vision for how to transition to a clean energy future. The Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC), historically leaning toward fossil-fueled generation, poses a significant barrier to progress. However, recent developments, including the establishment of the Arizona Office of Resiliency, offer new avenues for collaboration and investment. It’s an opportunity to harness federal support and channel it into initiatives that accelerate the state’s decarbonization journey. 

Arizona’s three largest utilities – Arizona Public Service (APS), Tucson Electric Power (TEP), and Salt River Project (SRP) – hold the key to the state’s energy trajectory. But their current approaches fall far short of the targets necessary to address the climate crisis effectively. APS and TEP are regulated by the ACC, while SRP is largely self-regulated. Each faces its own hurdles, but they all are focal points for driving emissions reductions and advancing clean energy initiatives.  

2024 is a window of opportunity to address climate change with each of the utilities in the process of planning their energy needs and setting sustainability goals. These formal processes provide a strategic avenue to shape utility plans and steer them toward emissions reduction targets necessary to combat climate change. This is the time when utilities and regulators chart their energy future and offers us a chance to advance the transition to clean energy in Arizona. By engaging with utilities, businesses, and local governments, we are actively shaping Arizona’s energy landscape. It’s not just about reducing emissions; it’s about ensuring affordable, reliable, and clean energy for the future. 

Public Support for Change

Across Arizona, there’s a groundswell of public support for a clean energy transition. Recent polling tells us that Arizonans are overwhelmingly in favor of this shift.


of voters support their utility investing in clean energy sources.


of voters express a preference for powering their homes with clean energy, given the choice.


of voters acknowledge clean energy investments would improve public health and reduce emissions.


Arizona Public Service Lags Behind

APS – the largest energy utility in Arizona – has existing plans to reduce its carbon pollution just 60% by 2030, making it one of the least ambitious of the major electric utilities in the West.

Accelerating the integration of wind, solar, and energy storage, as suggested by WRA, could not only help APS reach its emissions targets but also position it as a leader in clean energy. And the ripple effect of such actions isn’t just good for the environment, it’s good for Arizonan’s energy bills. Expediting the retirement of the coal-powered Four Corners Power Plant by 2028, rather than the current 2031 projection, could save customers $139 million, according to APS’s own modeling.

Tucson Electric Power Leads the Way

TEP is a frontrunner in decarbonization efforts with plans to reduce its carbon emissions 80% by 2035 – the most ambitious path to decarbonization of any Arizona utility. However, TEP’s planned pace of emissions reductions doesn’t scale up quickly enough to meet our national science-based 2030 climate goals and includes adding new fossil gas infrastructure.

WRA is advocating for a holistic approach, urging TEP to prioritize renewable procurement and retire outdated coal-fired plants to further expedite its transition to clean energy. In doing so, TEP can serve as a model for APS and SRP and illustrate that a large Arizona utility can pivot to renewable resources without sacrificing reliability.

Salt River Project is the Weakest in the West 

As a largely self-regulated entity, SRP presents a unique challenge in Arizona’s utility landscape. SRP makes resource decisions driven by sustainability goals set by its elected board. It is the only major utility in the West without plans to fully transition away from coal plants, and thus SRP has one of the weakest strategies for greenhouse gas emissions reductions.   

Central to SRP’s shortcomings is its use of intensity-based goals rather than mass-based metrics. This approach masks the true challenge of reducing overall carbon emissions. Although SRP boasts a goal to reduce carbon emissions per megawatt-hour generated by 82% by 2035, it also projects a significant increase in demand for electricity over that same period. As a result, it is possible that SRP could achieve its intensity-based goals while still increasing the overall amount of climate warming pollution they emit into the atmosphere. 

It’s not just about numbers; it’s about impact. Transitioning from intensity-based to mass-based goals would push SRP to focus more on energy efficiency and clean energy technologies to meet customers’ needs while also reducing total greenhouse gas emissions irrespective of demand fluctuations. 

The Path Forward 

Arizona’s journey toward a clean energy future hinges on decisions made today. Given that electricity generation is such a significant source of climate pollution in the state, the clear solution is moving the power sector away from fossil fuels as quickly as we can. Each utility’s commitment to this transition paves the way for cleaner air, healthier communities, and economic growth – because every ton of emissions avoided today sets in motion a cascade of positive impacts, echoing through generations.  



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