Public Comment Period Closes, Final Rule Expected
BENSON – The public comment period on a plan by Arizona’s Generation & Transmission Cooperatives (AzGT) that will significantly reduce power plant emissions that contribute to regional haze has ended.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced its ‘proposal for approval’ of the plan in September, and the public comment period ended Nov. 3 with only one comment being filed.
Michelle Freeark, director of safety and environmental services, said the EPA will consider the comments received when the proposed approval was issued and revise the regulation accordingly and issue a fine rule , either accepting the plan or not. Freeark said the EPA doesn’t have a deadline to take action.
“There is no regulatory timeframe for the EPA to issue its final rule, so we just have to wait for it to happen,” Freeark said.
The EPA’s proposed approval in September came two years after the agency issued a ‘federal implementation plan’ (FIP) that would have required installing expensive ‘selective catalytic reduction’ technology on both of the coal units at the Apache Generating Station in Cochise, Arizona, south of Willcox.
That FIP would have cost more than $200 million to implement and could have forced the plant to close one or both of its coal-fired units.
The revised plan submitted last year by AzGT calls for converting one of the units to natural gas and installing upgraded emissions controls on both units, resulting in overall emissions reductions greater than the EPA’s FIP and at a much lower cost of approximately $32 million. The reductions will not only reduce emissions that possibly contribute to regional haze but other types of emissions as well.
Freeark has called the AzGT revised plan a ‘win-win’ for all involved.
“It achieves the common goal we share with the EPA to improve visibility in the great national parks and wilderness areas around our plant for present and future generations, and it also shows how a generation and transmission cooperative can work closely with a regulatory agency to achieve a solution that works for both,” Freeark said.
Patrick Ledger, AzGT CEO, said the alternative plan is the result of extensive work and planning and is “great news for the people at the end of the line who use our power.”
“We have a responsibility to our distribution cooperatives and the rural people at the end of the line who rely on us to provide safe, reliable and affordable electric power and we have a great team that kept that in mind as we worked to develop our alternative to the EPA’s plan,” Ledger said.
Arizona Congressman Ron Barber (D-Dist. 2) was instrumental in facilitating the discussions between the EPA and AzGT officials that resulted in proposed acceptance of the AzGT plan. He toured the Apache Generating Station and convinced the EPA officials to meet with the AzGT team, and it was after that meeting that the EPA said it would consider an alternative plan.
“I fought to make sure that top EPA officials sat down with executives from AEPCO because Southern Arizona could not afford the one-size-fits-all mandate the EPA had imposed on the Apache Station,” Barber said.
“Once AEPCO officials had a chance to present their proposal, the EPA understood that it would save more than 240 Cochise County jobs while also reducing emissions and protecting ratepayers. It is my job to ensure Washington listens to Arizonans (and the EPA’s proposed approval) illustrates what can happen when the two sides come together to achieve a common goal,” Barber said.
The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) opened a public comment period on the plan earlier this year, from February 19 – March 21. A public hearing by ADEQ was held March 26, and the agency then forwarded the revised plan to the EPA for its review. It was after that public comment and public hearing process and its own review that the EPA proposed to approve the AzGT alternative.
Arizona’s G&T Cooperatives
Arizona Electric Power Cooperative (AEPCO), Southwest Transmission Cooperative (SWTC) and Sierra Southwest Cooperative Services collectively make up AzGT Cooperatives.
AEPCO owns and operates the 605 (combined gross) megawatt Apache Generating Station at Cochise, Arizona, east of Benson.
SWTC owns and maintains more than 620 miles of transmission lines and 27 substations that transmit wholesale power from the Apache Generating Station to six Member Distribution Cooperatives in southern Arizona, northwestern Arizona in Bullhead City and Mohave County, and Anza in California.
Combined, the Distribution Cooperatives that receive AEPCO’s wholesale power serve more than 147,000 meters representing more than 350,000 individual residential, commercial, agricultural and industrial customers.
The six Class A Member Cooperatives that receive wholesale power from AEPCO include five in Arizona; Duncan Valley Electric Cooperative in Duncan, Graham County Electric Cooperative in Pima, Mohave Electric Cooperative in Bullhead City, Sulphur Springs Valley Electric Cooperative in Willcox, Trico Electric Cooperative in Marana, and the California member, Anza Electric Cooperative in Anza. These Member Cooperatives own the AzGT Cooperatives and by extension, the G&T Cooperatives are owned by their Members, the people at the end of the line who use the power.
The cooperatives are also Rural Utilities Service (RUS), a federal agency, borrowers.
The G&Ts and its Member Cooperatives are not-for-profit utilities.