Rural Policy Forum Focuses on Economic Development

AzGT helps sponsor rural development and outreach through Local First Arizona

For Immediate Release
September 3, 2021

Contacts: Geoff Oldfather, (520) 586-5465, C: (520) 444-3473, goldfather@azgt.coop
J.D. Wallace, (520) 586-5157, C: (520) 235-4203, jdwallace@azgt.coop

BENSON –Arizona G&T Cooperatives recently participated in a Rural Policy Forum organized by Local First Arizona. AzGT sponsors Local First Arizona in an effort to overcome challenges faced by rural communities. It’s part of AzGT’s commitment to serve the communities where it and its six Member electric distribution cooperatives operate.

“Affordable housing is our number one challenge,” said Kimber Lanning, founder and CEO of Local First Arizona. “We need to create jobs in rural Arizona, but we don’t have enough affordable places for workers to live,” she added.

While last year’s forum was cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Aug. 5-6 forum in Sahuarita attracted a record 300 people.

Rural communities continue to reel from the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the emergence of the Delta variant. Even before the pandemic, unemployment has been a problem for rural places.

attendees at the rural policy forum

“People don’t realize how expensive it’s gotten to live in rural areas,” Lanning said. For example, many hospitality workers in the Verde Valley are living in camper vans. People moving to rural areas to get away from it all are building expensive homes, but builders are spread thin and aren’t working on affordable housing projects like apartment buildings. In addition, the overwhelming share of new jobs are being created in urban centers like Maricopa County.

“The LFA’s Arizona Economic Recovery Center is working hand in hand with any grant-seeking entity in rural Arizona,” Lanning said. “Our partnership with Arizona G&T Cooperatives ensures we can deploy more grant writers and project managers to get more [federal] dollars flowing into rural Arizona.”

Gary Mack is business and cooperative programs director for the Office of Rural Development with the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Phoenix. “Access to capital for small business development seem to be a major challenge in rural Arizona,” he said. “We have a number of programs to help.”

Mack cited the Rural Economic Development Loans & Grants program (REDL&G) third-party lending program as an example. AzGT administers the Arizona REDL&G program, and has provided almost $2 million in low-interest, long-term loans for rural development projects.  Mack said AzGT has done a great job, reaching out to rural communities like the city of Benson to fund the airport’s aviation fuel farm.

George Scott, executive director of the Southeast Arizona Economic Development Group, said the forum helped people from smaller towns get together to share ideas. “In a community like Benson, young people have to leave to find jobs,” he said. “We’re changing that.”

About Arizona G&T Cooperatives

Arizona Electric Power Cooperative (AEPCO) and Sierra Southwest (Sierra) together comprise the Arizona G&T Cooperatives. AEPCO owns and operates the 605-megawatt (combined gross) Apache Generating Station, located at Cochise, east of Benson. AEPCO also owns, operates and maintains 841 miles of electric power transmission line—including line owned in part with other utilities—and 33 substations to provide wholesale electric power from Apache to six Member distribution cooperatives in southern Arizona, western New Mexico, northwestern Arizona and California.

Sierra is the vehicle to develop new ways to serve the renewable energy needs of AzGT Member cooperatives and customers, and helps maximize solar and other renewable tax credits. Sierra has initiated two utility-scale solar projects; the 20 MW Apache Solar project on AEPCO property adjacent to and northeast of Apache Generating Station, and SunAnza Phase I, a 2 MW solar array, as well as SunAnza Phase II, which includes an additional 1.4 MW solar array and a battery storage system, all of which is on property owned by the cooperative adjacent to its headquarters in Anza, California.

Combined, the distribution cooperatives that receive AEPCO’s wholesale power serve more than 161,000 meters representing more than 420,000 individual residential, commercial, agricultural, and industrial member/consumers.

The Class A Member cooperatives that receive wholesale power from AEPCO include Duncan Valley Electric Cooperative, Duncan; Graham County Electric Cooperative, Pima; Mohave Electric Cooperative, Bullhead City; Sulphur Springs Valley Electric Cooperative, Willcox; Trico Electric Cooperative, Marana; and a California member, Anza Electric Cooperative, Anza, California.

These Member cooperatives own AzGT and, by extension, AzGT’s Member distribution cooperatives are owned by their members—the people at the end of the line who use the power.

AEPCO also serves five Class D energy services Members which are scheduling and trading customers and which include the Central Arizona Water Conservation District, Phoenix, AZ; Lincoln County Power District #1, Pioche, NV; Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA; Southwest Public Power Agency, Maricopa, AZ; and Valley Electric Association, Pahrump, NV.

AEPCO is also a Member/owner of ACES, a nationwide energy management company that helps its Members and customers buy, sell, and manage energy more efficiently and with less risk. The AEPCO/AzGT Benson campus hosts the ACES West Regional Trading Center (WRTC), which benefits AEPCO/AzGT Members and customers.