Threat of blackouts in Tucson rises amid extreme heat, tight market | Subscriber

Tucson Electric Power Co. says it’s got plenty of power to meet expected higher demand peaks and keep air conditioners humming this summer.

But planning to avoid blackouts is getting trickier amid a shift from coal-fired power plants to solar and wind resources, more extreme summer temperatures and a tight market for power in the West, TEP and other utilities told state regulators last week.

And by 2025, utilities across the Southwest won’t be able to meet growing power demand if all their planned renewable-energy projects are not completed on schedule, according to a new study sponsored by TEP and other Southwest utilities.

In an annual summer preparedness workshop last week at the Arizona Corporation Commission, officials of TEP and sister rural utility UniSource Energy Services said they have sufficient generating capacity to meet summer demand peaks expected to rise above 2021 levels.

“Our energy supplies are adequate and we feel as well-prepared as we can be for the high temperatures and high energy demands of summer,” TEP spokesman Joe Barrios said. “However, we’ll keep a close eye on the weather and our regional energy market, and we have contingency plans in case any emergencies arrive.”

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Arizona Public Service Co., the state’s biggest power company, the self-governed Salt River Project and Arizona Electric Power Cooperative, which supplies the state’s rural electric co-ops, also told regulators they’ve lined up enough power to meet expected summer demand.

Summertime reliability has become a major concern since August 2020, when power shortages during a historic heat wave across the West prompted California’s transmission system operator to impose rolling blackouts to avoid a collapse of the whole system.

Arizona managed to avoid blackouts, partly through measures including demand-response programs and customer conservation efforts, but the state’s ratepayers bore the cost of spiking regional power prices during the crisis.

Planning challenges

Regionwide, resource planning has become more difficult amid extreme summer temperatures and drought, constraints on power imports from California, and supply-chain and other factors affecting solar and storage projects, Lee Alter, resource planning director for TEP and UES, told regulators.

TEP and UES together are forecasting a 2.4% increase in summer peak demand, to 3,038 megawatts.

The utilities are going into the summer with a combined reserve margin — generating capacity beyond the forecast demand — of 16%, based on demand reflecting average summer temperatures, Alter said.



Technician Darrell Neil works in one of the halls that houses five of TEP’s 10 Reciprocating Internal Combustion Engines at the H. Wilson Sundt Generating Station in Tucson.



Reserve margins give utilities a cushion against higher than expected demand caused by extreme weather and disruptions to supplies like an unscheduled power-plant shutdown or wildfire damage to transmission lines.

The Western Electricity Coordinating Council said that for 2021, an annual reserve margin of 16% was needed to maintain adequate resources in the Desert Southwest region including Arizona.

Arizona Public Service Co. is forecasting a nearly 4% increase in peak demand, to 7,881 MW, and has planned a reserve margin of about 15%.

Tight power market

Alter said that amid the West’s tight power market, it’s harder to find enough supplemental energy resources, like firm contracts for future power deliveries, to expand reserve margins.

“In the past, there was enough capacity in the region that if you wanted more, you’d go get more, but the market has really tightened up,” Alter told the Corporation Commission.

Alter also cited growing concerns that prolonged drought in the Colorado River Basin may halt hydroelectric production from the Glen Canyon Dam or Hoover Dam, while California’s grid operator has continued a policy adopted last year to limit power exports during emergency conditions.

Barrios said TEP and UES don’t rely on hydro power from the Colorado River dams, but a loss of those resources would mean less available power capacity in the region and drive up scarcity and prices.

On the plus side, TEP last week began participating in the Western Energy Imbalance Market, a real-time wholesale power market of about 20 utilities managed by the California Independent System Operator.

While not adding generating capacity, Alter said the market will help TEP balance intermittent resources like solar and wind, prevent grid instability and improve system reliability.



Planning to avoid blackouts is getting trickier amid a shift from coal-fired power plants to solar and wind resources, more extreme summer temperatures and a tight market for power in the West, Tucson Electric Power and other utilities told state regulators last week.



Regional power pinch

TEP and other Southwest utilities are facing major challenges in meeting peak power demand as they transition away from coal-fired generation in the next few years, Alter said, citing a recent a study by Environmental + Energy Economics (E3).

“Load growth and resource retirements are creating a significant and urgent need for new resources in the Southwest region,” E3 said a report commissioned by TEP, Arizona Public Service Co., the Salt River Project, Arizona Electric Power Cooperative, El Paso Electric Co. and Public Service Co. of New Mexico.

“Maintaining regional reliability will hinge on whether utilities can add new resources quickly enough to meet this growing need and will require a pace of development largely unprecedented for the region,” the study concluded.

Regionwide by 2025, the utilities face a shortfall of nearly 4 gigawatts of generating capacity with existing resources and plants now under development. A gigawatt, or 1,000 megawatts, of installed solar generating capacity is enough to power about 200,000 to 250,000 homes in TEP territory.

The Southwest utilities have prepared for the higher demand, with commitments for about 5 gigawatts of new generation and plans to add another 14.4 gigawatts by 2025, the report said.

But there’s a real risk that any delays to the utilities’ buildout plans could lead to power shortages in the future, potentially elevating system reliability risks for a decade or more, the E3 report said.

“While this risk might seem remote in normal times, supply chain disruptions, materials shortages and a tight labor market are already impacting project timelines across the country,” the study said.

In 2021, TEP added 449 megawatts of new wind and solar resources, allowing the company to provide about 30% of its power from renewable resources.



By 2025, utilities across the Southwest won’t be able to meet growing power demand if all their planned renewable-energy projects are not completed on schedule, according to a new study sponsored by TEP and other Southwest utilities.



TEP has one solar project under construction, the 15 MW Raptor Ridge photovoltaic solar project near East Valencia Road and Interstate 10, which is expected to go online later this year to supply power through a customer solar-subscription program, GoSolar Home.

In early April, TEP announced an all-sources request for proposals for up to 250MW of renewable and energy-efficiency resources, including solar and wind and demand-response programs that reduce usage during periods of high demand. TEP also is seeking up to 300MW of “firm capacity” resources, including energy storage systems providing at least four hours of power daily during the summer, or demand-response programs.

UES issued a call for bids for up to 170MW of renewable and energy efficiency resources and up to 150MW of firm-capacity resources.

TEP and UES want the new resources to go into service preferably by May 2024, but no later than May 2025.



The turbine generator floor at the H. Wilson Sundt Generating Station, 3950 E. Irvington Road, in 2017.



TEP needs to move fast amid looming coal-plant retirements, including the planned June shutdown of the 170MW Unit 1 generator at the San Juan Generating Station in northwest New Mexico.

Barrios said maintaining adequate generating capacity is always a concern, but TEP is faring better than some of its regional neighbors.

He cited Public Service Co. of New Mexico, which told regulators it didn’t have any capacity reserve margin for July or August.

Public Service Co. of New Mexico in February decided to keep the other remaining coal-fired generating unit at San Juan running until September, three months past its planned retirement date, to boost its summer reserve margin.

TEP has no current plans to delay any coal-plant retirements, Barrios said.

Dropping demand

TEP also is working on demand-response programs, in which customers allow the utility to cut their power usage during peak periods to avoid shortages, Barrios said.

The utility currently can now work with commercial and industrial customers to quickly reduce demand by up to 40MW, Barrios said, and has a new pilot program to allow some apartment dwellers to earn a $10 quarterly bill credit to shift their water-heater usage away from peak periods.

The utility is also working with Tucson Water on a new “Beat the Peak” campaign to urge customers to reduce energy usage during peak periods, typically from 3 to 7 p.m. in the summer, Barrios said.

The campaign will include messaging on social media and video, inviting customers to explore pricing plans and energy-efficiency options to help reduce usage during peak hours, he said.

Photos: Monsoon 2021

Rillito River after Tropical Storm Nora

It was clear skies at sunset over the Rillito River, running almost bank-to-bank near its junction at the Santa Cruz River, September 1, 2021, the day after Tropical Storm Nora dumped several hours of rain on Tucson, Ariz.



Storm Preparation

Jeff Bartsch places a sandbag onto his pickup truck near Hi Corbett Field in Tucson, Ariz. on August 30, 2021. Bartsch lives near Craycroft Road and 22nd Street and says his wife’s office which is the carport has flooded twice. Tropical Storm Nora is expected to bring heavy rain and cause more flooding.



Tropical storm Nora

Pedestrians walk though the soaked intersection of Congress and 6th as the remnants of tropical storm Nora drops evening rains over Tucson, Ariz., August 31, 2021.



Storm Preparation

People fill up sandbags at Hi Corbett Field as clouds roll over in Tucson, Ariz. on August 30, 2021. Tropical Storm Nora is expected to bring heavy rain and cause more flooding.



Storm Preparation

Elaine Gomez. center, receives help from her sister-in-law, Lucyann Trujillo, right, in filling sandbags near Hi Corbett Field in Tucson, Ariz. on August 30, 2021. Gomez lives near 19th Street and Craycroft Road and says the house flooded a couple of weeks ago. Tropical Storm Nora is expected to bring heavy rain and cause more flooding.



Storm Preparation

People fill up sandbags at Hi Corbett Field as clouds roll over in Tucson, Ariz. on August 30, 2021. Tropical Storm Nora is expected to bring heavy rain and cause more flooding.



Monsoon

An air cargo plane lifts off from Tucson, Ariz., International Airport in front of a monsoon storm boiling up to the southeast in the Huachuca City/Sierra Vista area, August 24, 2021.



Monsoon

The last of the day’s light hits the upper reaches of a monsoon storm cloud over an utility tower east of Tucson, Ariz., August 18, 2021.



Monsoon

A man and his dog skirt a flooded section of The Loop along the Rillito River near Swan Road following Tuesday’s monsoon over central Tucson.



Monsoon

An evening monsoon storm cloud drops a column of rain over central Tucson, Ariz., August 17, 2021.



Monsoon

A woman wades into the flood waters of the Rillito River just west of Swan Road after an afternoon monsoon storm through the center of town got the washes flowing, Tucson, Ariz., August 17, 2021.



Monsoon, 2021

Monsoon clouds clear as the sun sets near the Santa Catalina Mountains on Aug. 2, 2021.



Arizona Weather

A woman climbs out of a Nissan pick-up as firefighters from Northwest Fire District position themselves for a water rescue in the Cañada del Oro Wash north of Tucson, Ariz., on Aug. 10, 2021. Firefighters rescued three people from one of two vehicles in the wash, swollen with runoff after an early-morning downpour dumped nearly two-inches upstream.



Monsoon

Several bolts strike in the foothills of the southern Rincon Mountains as an intense monsoon cell rolls into Vail, Ariz., July 30, 2021.



Monsoon

A heavy bolt of lightning hits in the foothills of the southern Rincon Mountains as an intense monsoon cell rolls into Vail, Ariz., July 30, 2021,



Monsoon

A heavy bolt of lightning hits in the foothills of the southern Rincon Mountains as an intense monsoon cell rolls into Vail on Friday night.



Monsoon lightning 2021

Lighting strikes southwest of Tucson, Ariz., July 29, 2021, from one of several monsoon cells that moved through valley just before sunset.



Monsoon lightning 2021

Several fingers of lighting strike southwest of Tucson, Ariz., July 29, 2021, from one of several monsoon cells that moved through and around the valley just before sunset.



Monsoon lightning 2021

Lighting hits southwest of Tucson, Ariz., July 29, 2021, as several monsoon storms roll over the outskirts of the city just before sunset.



Monsoon lightning 2021

A bolt of lighting hits in the Santa Catalina foothills in the northwest part of Tucson, Ariz., July 29, 2021, as several monsoon storms rolled over the outskirts of town.



Monsoon lightning 2021

A lighting strikes drops out of a monsoon squall moving just southwest of Tucson, Ariz., July 29, 2021, one of several cells that surrounded the city just before sunset.



Monsoon lightning 2021

A lighting strikes hits in the Saguaro National Park, east of Tucson, Ariz., July 29, 2021, one of several storm cells that skirted the city.



Monsoon lightning 2021

A lighting strikes hits in the Saguaro National Park, east of Tucson, Ariz., July 29, 2021, one of several storm cells that skirted the city.



Monsoon, Sabino Creek

Tessa Claiborn, 10, jumps in a pool near the bottom of the Sabino dam at Sabino Canyon Recreational Area, 5700 N. Sabino Canyon Rd., in Tucson, Ariz. on July 26th, 2021. After being dry last year, the weekend monsoon storms brought a large flow of water back through the Sabino Creek and over the Sabino Dam.



Monsoon, Sabino Creek

A gentleman rest on a rock near the bottom of the Sabino dam at Sabino Canyon Recreational Area, 5700 N. Sabino Canyon Rd., in Tucson, Ariz. on July 26th, 2021. After being dry last year, the weekend monsoon storms brought a large flow of water back through the Sabino Creek and over the Sabino Dam.



Monsoon, Sabino Creek

A hiker walks past an ocotillo with lush green leaves along the Bear Canyon trail at Sabino Canyon Recreational Area, 5700 N. Sabino Canyon Rd., in Tucson, Ariz. on July 26th, 2021. After being dry last year, the weekend monsoon storms brought a large flow of water back through the Sabino Creek and over the Sabino Dam.



Monsoon, Sabino Creek

A group of saguaro cacti are surrounded by ocotillo and lush green scenery along the Bear Canyon trail with green lush scenery at Sabino Canyon Recreational Area, 5700 N. Sabino Canyon Rd., in Tucson, Ariz. on July 26th, 2021.



Monsoon, Sabino Creek

Judy Scharringhausen takes a picture of a patch of greenery along the Bear Canyon trail at Sabino Canyon Recreational Area, 5700 N. Sabino Canyon Rd., in Tucson, Ariz. on July 26th, 2021.



Monsoon, Sabino Creek

Hikers walk along the Bear Canyon trail with green lush scenery at Sabino Canyon Recreational Area, 5700 N. Sabino Canyon Rd., in Tucson, Ariz. on July 26th, 2021.



Monsoon, Sabino Creek

In 2020, the Sabino Canyon creek was dry for 216 days, the most since 1990. Then we went abruptly to the wettest month in Tucson history in July 2021. Here, a Sabino Canyon visitor, Brad Balla, sits on a rock near the bottom of the Sabino Dam last month.  



Monsoon storm, July, 2021

The Rillito River rolling along just west of Swan Road after a powerful storm with heavy rain over the Tucson area early Friday, July 23, 2021.



Monsoon, Santa Cruz River

The Santa Cruz River flows Friday morning July 23, 2021 after an overnight monsoon storm passed over in Tucson, Ariz.



Monsoon storm, July, 2021

The Rillito River east of 1st Ave. after a powerful storm with heavy rain over the Tucson area early Friday, July 23, 2021.



Monsoon storm, July, 2021

A cyclist photographs the Rillito River from The Loop path east of 1st Ave. a powerful storm with heavy rain over the Tucson area early Friday, July 23, 2021.



Monsoon storm, July, 2021

A truck enters Pima Wash on Rudasill Road after a powerful storm with heavy rain over the Tucson area early Friday, July 23, 2021.



Monsoon storm, July, 2021

A vehicle that was washed downstream in Alamo Wash sits just south of the bridge at Ft. Lowell Road after a powerful storm with heavy rain over the Tucson area early Friday, July 23, 2021. Tucson firefighters rescued the woman from the water in a call that began at Sahuara Ave. and Waverly St.



Monsoon flooding, July 2021

The flooded Pantano Wash draws crowds of onlookers where it cuts off Harrison Road following a night of intense monsoon storms, Tucson, Ariz., July 23, 2021.



Monsoon flooding, July 2021

Terry Shaeffer gets cell phone video of the the waters of Pantano Wash roaring over Harrison Road following a night of intense monsoon storms, Tucson, Ariz., July 23, 2021.



Monsoon flooding, July 2021

Steven Walden grabs video of the flooding Pantano Wash near Colossal Cave Road following a night of intense monsoon storms, Tucson, Ariz., July 23, 2021.



Monsoon flooding, July 2021

The parking area of the La Cienega Trailhead is flooded out from the nearby Pantano Wash following a night of intense monsoon storms, Tucson, Ariz., July 23, 2021.



Monsoon flooding, July 2021

People walk along the Pantano Wash as bank-to-bank water flows by near Colossal Cave Road following a night of intense monsoon storms, Tucson, Ariz., July 23, 2021.



Monsoon flooding, July 2021

A couple of men in a cart cruise along the Pantano Wash paths near the flooded channel near Colossal Cave Road following a night of intense monsoon storms, Tucson, Ariz., July 23, 2021.



Monsoon storm, July, 2021

The rolling Rillito River west of Swan Road after a powerful storm with heavy rain over the Tucson area early Friday, July 23, 2021.



Possible water rescue

A Tucson firefighter keeps an eye on the Alamo Wash behind Park Place after callers reported child was in the wash on July 22nd, 2021. There was no child in the wash but TFD watched the wash as a precaution.



Possible water rescue

A full and rapid Alamo Wash behind Park Place Mall in Tucson, Ariz. on July 22nd, 2021.



Sandbag

Julia Andres, left, and her husband David Andres fill sand bags for their home at Hi Corbett Field parking lot in Tucson, Ariz. on July 22nd, 2021. The City of Tucson is offering free self-serve sand bags at numerous vacations through out Tucson. There is a ten bag limit per vehicle. Sand bags and sand are provided but residents will need to bring their own shovel.



Sandbag

Residents fill sand bags at Hi Corbett Field parking lot in Tucson, Ariz. on July 22nd, 2021. The City of Tucson is offering free self-serve sand bags at numerous vacations through out Tucson. There is a ten bag limit per vehicle. Sand bags and sand are provided but residents will need to bring their own shovel.



Monsoon

A bolt of lightning illuminates a column of rain drenching midtown, part of a powerful monsoon cell that dropped rain, winds and hail over parts of Tucson, Ariz., July 20, 2021.



Monsoon

A bolt of lightning strikes the southeastern part of town as a powerful monsoon cell moves into central Tucson, Ariz., July 20, 2021.



Monsoon

Lightning hits the southern part of the city as a powerful monsoon cell moves through central Tucson, Ariz., July 20, 2021.



Monsoon

Lightning and rain fall on the southern parts of the city as a powerful monsoon cell rolls through central Tucson, Ariz., July 20, 2021.



Monsoon

Cloud-to-cloud lightning rips through the skies over the Santa Catalina Mountains, part of a second monsoon cell that skirted the northern parts of Tucson, Ariz., July 20, 2021.



Monsoon

From a spot in the Saguaro National Park East, George Lucero gets video of the day’s monsoon storms working over the Tanque Verde Valley, Tucson, Ariz., July 16, 2021. A persistent light rain fell over the eastern reaches of the valley throughout the afternoon



Monsoon

Monsoon storm clouds filter the sun light as a day of rain, mostly in the eastern parts of the valley, comes to an end, Tucson, Ariz., July 16, 2021.



Monsoon

A biker crosses over the flooded Canyon del Oro wash on The Loop bridge where the waters flow into the Santa Cruz River in the aftermath of an early morning monsoon storm that dumped inches of rain on the northwest side, Tucson, Ariz., July 14, 2021.



Monsoon

A biker on the Rillito River Park paths pedals next to the muddy waters in the channel as he heads east under the Craycroft Road bridge after an overnight monsoon storm dropped heavy rains on the north and west parts of the valley, Tucson, Ariz., July 14, 2021.



Monsoon

The dark muddy water in the Canyon del Oro wash falls over a spillway under I-10 near the confluence with the Santa Cruz River in the aftermath of an early morning monsoon storm that flooded washes and low lying areas, Tucson, Ariz., July 14, 2021.



Monsoon 2021, CDO Wash

Cañada del Oro Wash flowing with runoff from several monsoon storms flowing onto The Loop bike trail at Magee Road on July 14, 2021.



Monsoon 2021, CDO Wash

Cañada del Oro Wash flowing with runoff from several monsoon storms on July 14, 2021.



Monsoon 2021, CDO Wash

The unbridged crossing at Overton Road and the Cañada del Oro Wash was closed to traffic, but open for photos on July 14, 2021.



Monsoon 2021, CDO Wash

Cañada del Oro Wash flowing with runoff from several monsoon storms as seen from the bridge at La Cholla Blvd. on July 14, 2021.



Monsoon 2021, CDO Wash

The unbridged crossed at Overton Road and Cañada del Oro Wash closed to traffic due to runoff from several monsoon storms on July 14, 2021.



Monsoon 2021, CDO Wash

A cyclists gingerly proceeds along The Loop bike trail along the Cañada del Oro Wash flowing as runoff from several monsoon storms overlooks the banks on July 14, 2021.



Monsoon

A pair of bikers ride under the sunset sky under monsoon clouds along the Rillito River Park paths near Columbus Avenue, Tucson, Ariz., July 13, 2021. The rains bypassed the city for the most part Tuesday following heavy storms the day before.



Monsoon, 2021

Trico Electric Cooperative workers respond to a fallen power pole on W. Marana Rd. in Marana, Ariz. on July 12th, 2021. Areas of Marana lost power due to Monday night’s monsoon storm.



Monsoon, 2021

A group of people take photos as water flows in the Rillito River at N. Campbell Ave. in Tucson July 12th, 2021. With at total of 1.63″ of rainfall in this years monsoon season has surpassed last years total rainfall, according to the National Weather service.



Monsoon

Pedestrians negotiate the flooded intersection of Tyndall and University in Maingate Square as heavy rain drops on the area as part of the large monsoon storm that swept through Tucson, Ariz., July 10, 2021.



Monsoon

A wall of dust dwarfs downtown as a haboob leads a large monsoon storm into the area, Tucson, Ariz., July 10, 2021. In addition to the haboob the storm dropped heavy rain, winds, lightning and dust over the valley.



Monsoon

A dove fights the winds as the dust forms a haboob and darkens the skies as a large monsoon storm sweeps through the area, Tucson, Ariz., July 10, 2021.



Monsoon

Dust from a haboob obscures the skyline, the precursor to a large monsoon storm that swept through the area, Tucson, Ariz., July 10, 2021.



Monsoon

A pedestrian negotiates flooded Euclid Avenue near 2nd Street as heavy rains from a large monsoon storm inundate Tucson, Ariz., July 10, 2021.



Monsoon

Lightning flashes over the Santa Rita Mountains from one of the scattered monsoon storms surrounding Tucson, Ariz., July 7, 2021.



Monsoon, 2021

Several powerlines blew over on First Ave between River Road and Wetmore Road due to a monsoon storm with strong winds in Tucson, Ariz. on July 2, 2021.



Monsoon, 2021

A man walks along First Ave. in between Wetmore Road and River Road looking at the water flowing in the Rillito River due to a monsoon storm that passed through Tucson, Ariz. on July 2, 2021.



Monsoon, 2021

A man walks past a powerline that fell over on First Ave. between Wetmore Road and River Road due to a monsoon storm that passed through Tucson, Ariz. on July 2, 2021.



Monsoon, 2021

The Rillito River flows near First Ave and Wetmore Road after a monsoon storm passed over the area in Tucson, Ariz. on July 2, 2021.



Monsoon, 2021

Two men walk up to the scene where a monsoon storm with strong winds knocked over several powerlines on First ave between Wetmore Road and River Road in Tucson, Ariz. on July 2, 2021.



Monsoon 2021

A downed tree lays over gravestones at Evergreen Mortuary & Cemetery, 3015 N Oracle Road in Tucson, Ariz., on July 1, 2021. According to Cathy Fiorelli, general manager, a microburst passed through the area on Wednesday afternoon at 2:15p.m. knocking down 35 trees. She says no burials are disturbed.



Monsoon 2021

The sun sets behind monsoon clouds and rain to the west of Tucson Mountain Park, Tucson, Ariz., July 1, 2021.



Monsoon 2021

Traffic splashes through the run-off on Ina Road near Pima Canyon Drive during localized monsoon downpour, Tucson, Ariz., July 1, 2021.



Monsoon

As a monsoon storm builds behind them, Jacob Runyan, left, and Michele Bayze watch the clouds and rain roll over the valley in front of them from a boulder at Windy Point in the Santa Catalinas, Tucson, Ariz., June 30, 2021.



Monsoon

Rains rolls down the Tanque Verde Valley behind an agave bloom in the Santa Catalinas, part of a monsoon storm trickling into the valley, Tucson, Ariz., June 30, 2021.



Monsoon

A couple watch as a monsoon storm begins to drop rain in the eastern reaches of the Santa Catalinas from a lookout near Windy Point, Tucson, Ariz., June 30, 2021.



Contact senior reporter David Wichner at [email protected] or 520-573-4181. On Twitter: @dwichner. On Facebook: Facebook.com/DailyStarBiz

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