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On June 26, Tucson Electric Power unveiled an updated energy plan that aims to receive more than 70 percent of its power from wind and solar sources, and will reduce carbon emissions by 80 percent by 2035. While TEP’s  2020 Integrated Resource Plan takes steps toward a more sustainable output, parts of the plan remain reliant on fossil fuels.

Being touted as “ambitious, realistic and responsible,” the IRP comes after more than a year of deliberation, with input from the Sierra Club and the University of Arizona’s Institute of the Environment. TEP selected the IRP out of a batch of 24 potential energy plans. 

According to Joe Barrios, a spokesman for TEP, the company selected this plan because it had the best balance of affordability, reliability and sustainability. The only plan of the 24 that achieved a greater level of carbon reduction is the one advocated for by the Sierra Club. However, TEP rejected this plan because it would have cost approximately $300 million more than the selected plan.

“The resource planning we do is a continual process,” Barrios said. “We are always looking at the resources we have in place and thinking about how we can do it better, more efficiently and more sustainably. TEP historically has had a large coal-fired portfolio compared to a lot of other utilities, but it’s something we’ve been thinking about moving away from for a while now… We’ve been focused on what we think we can actually accomplish within the next 15 years, and that’s what the plan describes.”

The IRP calls for more than 2,000 megawatts of new wind and solar power systems (including 457 megawatts that will be coming online over the next year), 1,400 megawatts of new energy storage systems, and a gradual retirement of TEP’s two units at the coal-fired Springerville Generating Station.

TEP plans to retire its two Springerville coal units in 2027 and 2032. Roughly 390 TEP employees operate the plant, and the company hopes to eliminate its coal reliance without large layoffs. 

“For us and our employees, this was certainly a big decision, but we’re not planning any layoffs,” Barrios said. “We anticipate the workforce will shrink through attrition. As people retire, we’ll need fewer and fewer employees there over time. And we’ll also make every effort to find new positions for them within the company.” 

While those units retire, more sustainable projects are being built. An estimated 13 percent of the power TEP currently provides to customers comes from renewable resources, but within the next year, that number is estimated to grow to 30 percent. This will be due in part to two wind projects in New Mexico: Oso Grande and Borderlands. 

“If you’re interested in wind, there are some areas of the state with wind resources, but not in the way New Mexico does,” Barrios said. “But if you’re interested in solar, Arizona is great.”

The IRP also calls for a new solar array and battery storage system just south of the Tucson airport called the Wilmot Energy Center. Tucsonans can expect the first solar panels in the Wilmot Energy Center to be constructed later this year. 

These renewable projects are expected to reduce TEP’s annual carbon dioxide emissions from nearly 10 million tons in 2020 to less than 3 million tons in 2035. 

While emission reduction is a major draw for this IRP, the plan is expected to also greatly reduce Tucson’s water consumption. Currently, TEP consumes more than five billion gallons of water annually. But by 2035, that number is estimated to be down to one billion.

“We were looking to develop a carbon-reduction goal in a responsible way that aligned with global efforts to address climate change and we feel that’s what’s included in this portfolio,” Barrios said. 

The accepted plan will continue to use natural gas for fossil fuel energy. Natural gas currently provides 1,800 megawatt capacity for TEP, and that number would drop to 1,575 by 2035.

TEP argues this plan represents its “fair share of worldwide efforts to limit global warming” in accordance with the Paris Climate Agreement. However, portions of the IRP remain to be decided. While the New Mexico wind projects and Tucson solar array account for portions of the planned sustainability, more developments will be discussed during the plan’s 15-year life cycle. 

“For the other projects, the IRP only describes the capacities we’re looking for, like the megawatts we expect we’ll need to bring online,” Barrios said. “So those are projects we haven’t signed any contracts for yet, and we haven’t identified where they’re going to be or what they’re going to look like. We don’t say in the report what percentage needs to be wind or solar, and that’s because we’re going to wait and see what kinds of projects are available in the future.” 


For more information on Tucson Electric Power’s 2020 Integrated Resource Plan, visit tep.com/tep-2020-integrated-resource-plan

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