Gas powered engines

The Arizona Daily Star published the following op-ed about TEP’s planned upgrades on March 1, 2018:

Tucson Electric Power is working to expand its use of solar, wind and other clean energy resources without compromising our commitment to safe, reliable and affordable service.

We’re building a smarter, more robust energy grid to support our increased reliance on renewable energy. In addition to emerging energy storage options, we need efficient, responsive natural-gas-fired generators that can supplement the intermittent output of solar arrays and wind turbines.

That’s why we’re planning to replace older steam generators at our H. Wilson Sundt Generating Station in Tucson with new reciprocating internal combustion engine (RICE) generators. These efficient natural-gas-fired engines will provide us with the clean, responsive resource we need to overcome challenges associated with our increasing use of solar energy.

We’ve worked hard to keep area residents informed about this important project through mailings, website updates and public meetings. But a guest column that appeared in the Star on Wednesday threatens to compromise these efforts through misstatements, misunderstandings and baseless accusations.

Rather than damaging public health, as the column claims, our project would help protect it. The RICE units will run more efficiently than the older units they’ll replace, using less water and allowing lower overall emissions at the plant. Sundt’s nitrogen oxide emissions will be 60 percent lower after the project is complete, improving local air quality and contributing to the health of the surrounding community.

Our RICE generators should not be considered as an alternative to renewable energy, as the column asserts. In fact, they are needed to support our increased use of solar and wind resources that do not perform like traditional power plants.

Solar power systems provide intermittent output that can disappear behind passing clouds and fades away later in the day — right around the time our customers start using more energy. Older generating units were not designed to increase or decrease their output quickly enough to compensate for these changes.

The RICE units, by contrast, will allow TEP to quickly ramp up and roll back generation to supplement the output of our growing renewable-energy portfolio. They’re a critical part of our plan to provide 30 percent of our power from renewable resources by 2030 — doubling our state’s 2025 goal.

Nearly 13 percent of our community’s power came from renewable resources last year, far more than the 5 percent figure included in Wednesday’s column. While we understand the desire for even quicker adoption of renewable resources, TEP and other utilities must contend with the limits of existing technology and a need to maintain affordable, reliable service at all times.

Our energy grid operates in real time; virtually all of the power we use is being generated at that same moment. That means we can’t rely on renewable energy alone to satisfy our 24/7 energy needs. While energy storage systems offer great promise, TEP and other utilities will need fossil-fueled resources for the foreseeable future to maintain reliable service.

The modern natural gas-fired RICE units we’re adding to our Sundt Generating Station will help TEP provide a healthy energy mix that supports our community’s long-term growth. I invite you to learn more about the project by visiting and reviewing information about our “Irvington Campus Modernization.”

Larry Lucero is senior director of government and external affairs for Tucson Electric Power.

To view the editorial on the Arizona Daily Star’s website, click here.

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