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ACC Ruling Abandons Authority to Conduct Environmental Reviews for Methane Gas Power Plants

The Arizona Corporation Commission voted 4-1 to allow UniSource Electric to build a 200-megawatt methane gas plant without obtaining a certificate of environmental compatibility. The decision creates a troubling new precedent for gas and electric utilities seeking to build new generation facilities, eviscerating an oversight process that has been in place in Arizona since 1971. 

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PHOENIXThe Arizona Corporation Commission yesterday voted 4-1 to allow UniSource Electric to build a 200-megawatt methane gas plant without obtaining a certificate of environmental compatibility. The decision, which overturned a ruling by the state’s Power Plant and Transmission Line Siting Committee requiring the certificate, creates a troubling new precedent for gas and electric utilities seeking to build new generation facilities, eviscerating an oversight process that has been in place in Arizona since 1971. 

This is a disappointing decision that overturns decades of Commission practice to essentially exempt most gas plants from common-sense environmental review, depriving Arizonans of a voice in siting these large, polluting industrial facilities.
Emily Doerfler, WRA attorney

The Line Siting Committee’s certificate of environmental compatibility process enables communities, including those already disadvantaged and burdened by existing energy projects, to have a voice in the construction of new facilities. For example, the community in Randolph was able to secure a settlement in 2023 from Salt River Project to address impacts of its 12-turbine expansion of Coolidge Generating Station. This not only reduced the number of gas units proposed at the site from 16, but provided Randolph with millions of dollars for scholarships, a home rehabilitation program, a community development plan, and more.  

In March, UniSource filed a request with the Line Siting Committee asking for a legal determination that its proposed 200 MW Black Mountain Expansion Project near Kingman in Mohave County does not require a certificate of environmental compatibility. The utility argued that since the expansion is comprised of four turbines that each have 50 MW of capacity, a certificate of environmental compatibility is not required.  

Since 1971, every generating station built in Arizona with more than 100 MW of capacity has had to apply for, and has received, a certificate of environmental certification, according to the Line Siting Committee.    

UniSource’s extreme and novel legal argument was soundly rejected on May 2 by the Committee with a 9-2 vote. During Committee deliberations, Committee member Jon Gold – who was appointed by the Arizona Corporation Commission in 2023 – observed the utility’s petition sought to undermine the very purpose of the Line Siting Committee.  Voting to reject UniSource’s petition, Gold stated, “the Committee is here for a reason.” 

The Committee was created in 1971 when the Arizona Legislature recognized its statutes did not “provide adequate opportunity for individuals, groups interested in conservation and the protection of the environment, local governments, and other public bodies to participate in timely fashion the decision to locate a specific major facility at a specific site.” 

This decision by the ACC effectively ends the certificate of environmental compatibility process for most if not all future methane gas plants in Arizona. The voices of rural Arizonans, local governments, interested stakeholders, and Committee members have been silenced at the Arizona Corporation Commission.
Emily Doerfler

Contact:

James Quirk, 908-902-3177, james.quirk@westernresources.org

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