Flagstaff backs renewable energy

Illustration by Aleah Green

Resolution 2016-30, or the Arizona Power Authority Hoover Municipal Power Exchange Program, was passed unanimously by Flagstaff City Council Oct. 1, as a package including three other consent items on the agenda. The resolution was a win for renewable energy supporters and a defeat for Arizona Public Service (APS).

The resolution was presented in 2016 as a power sale contract. An agreement between the city and the Arizona Power Authority allowed the former to purchase wholesale energy, about 373 kilowatts annually, according to an official energy contract. The contract allowed energy to be reallocated from the Hoover Dam to recipients who haven’t used their total allocated sum. The sale would save the city tens of thousands of dollars annually to buy power at a lower cost from the Power Authority, rather than from APS, according to projections on the council agenda.

The Hoover Dam goes through two states: Nevada and Arizona, on the cusp of each other’s borders. These two states, along with California, have received converted hydroelectric power since 1936, according to the Bureau of Reclamation. The Arizona Power Authority is the medium created by the state to market and sell energy in bulk to clients like Flagstaff. Other clients include Sedona, Sierra Vista, Phoenix, Payson and Globe.

Arizona itself receives about 19% of the shared power straight from the dam, as stated by the Bureau of Reclamation. Smaller entities like Flagstaff purchase from the Power Authority.

The resolution was formally passed in October 2017 and is valid for 50 years, until 2067. Projected savings show that the city will conserve just under $40,000 annually by 2027. In cumulative savings, the number is projected to reach over $230,000 that same year.

Prices from APS have increased since a controversial 4.5% rate hike in 2017 that the company said added $6 to costumers’ monthly bills. Complaints were filed by utility customers like Phoenix resident Stacy Champion, who claims the actual rate increase was up to or above 12%, stating 4.5% was only a base figure. The Arizona Corporation Commission voted twice to approve the increase in 2017 and in 2019.

Questions remain regarding whether this decision by city council was made with the intent to play a role in the Climate Change Action and Adaptation Plan that members passed in November 2018.

The Climate Change Action and Adaptation Plan aims to prepare for and respond to climate change. Stated on the city’s official strategies and actions, preparation for “catastrophic power loss” and more sustainable habits across Flagstaff are part of the plan. Power sharing and stockpiled savings, financial and electric, supplement these goals.

Councilmember Jamie Whelan voted for the power sale contract in 2016 and again this month, but nonetheless expressed the need for compromise.

“APS — they’re a good company,” Whelan said. “Maybe I don’t agree with what they do politically, but they also are willing to listen to our community and say, ‘There’s a possibility we might be able to generate clean energy for you,’ right here at Gap Ridge. I don’t think we should just limit one or the other, and you’ll see this city doesn’t. It takes from all different pockets.”

Hydroelectric power is clean and renewable, according to the Bureau of Reclamation. By sourcing and recycling energy from the Hoover Dam, Flagstaff is investing in its dedication to sustainability, while also complying to the city’s Climate Change Action and Adaptation Plan.

In September, APS issued two requests for a proposal to incorporate wind and solar resources in its service by 2021. APS projections claim that if implemented, Arizona can expect 2,500 megawatts by 2021, which is enough to power more than half a million homes.