A Golden Valley resident who bought and sold electricity for Pacific Gas & Electric for 17 years said Arizona should go slow in welcoming more natural gas-fired power plants.
"If we built another four or five plants, it would be more than adequate for five to 10 years," Irv Lubin said.
"Five plants would give you approximately 2,500 megawatts (of power), which could serve 2.5 million people."
Lubin, who retired from a 29-year career with PG&E in 1994, believes the companies that have proposed the 20 power plants in Arizona plan to market most of their power to energy-starved California.
During his 17 years with the power marketing division of PG&E in San Francisco, he said he bought and sold power from 17 Western states, Mexico and Canada.
Three power plants are in the works for Mohave County: the South Point Energy Center, scheduled to begin operating later this month at the Fort Mojave Indian Reservation; the Griffith Energy Project off Griffith Road and Interstate 40, due for start-up in June; and the Big Sandy Energy Project near Wikieup, which awaits approval from state and federal agencies.
State and industry officials disagree with Lubin, saying a tremendous need exists in Arizona to cope with population growing and increasing demand.
"First of all, we are in the catch-up phase," Arizona Corporation Commission spokeswoman Heather Murphy said.
"We need to build the power plants.
We need that reserve margin."
The reserve margin – the cushion above the demand for electricity – amounted to 7 percent last summer, Murphy said.
The ideal margin is 15 to 20 percent.
Murphy said Lubin based his projections on power needs in Arizona on the national industry standard of one megawatt of generation serving 1,000 people.
In Arizona, that figure is 250 to 350 people per megawatt during the summer and 850 to 1,000 megawatt off-season, she said.
"Arizona's consumption patterns are fairly low and stable until you get to summer," Murphy said.
"We have to supply under peak conditions.
We also have to have a reserve.
Even when everything is running, Arizona utilities still have to import power.
Arizona utilities rely on imports, from elsewhere on the western (power) grid.
It could be (from) a number of places, including California.
Historically, we have bought power from California in the summertime."
California imports only 18 to 24 percent of its electricity from Pacific Northwest and the southwestern states.
About 8 percent comes from Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico, said Susanne Garfield, a spokeswoman for the California Energy Commission in Sacramento.
"Our demand for electricity has been growing slower than our surrounding states," Garfield said.
"We have in the past relied on imports.
That is not available to us because the surrounding states' population has been growing."
California used to export electricity during the winters – until last winter, Garfield said.
"It wasn't because our demand increased," she said.
"What changes is there is less available (electricity) because the merchant plants weren't producing, the plants were broken down or they were down for scheduled maintenance."
Arizona will face power shortages if more power plants are not built, said Stan Barnes, a Phoenix-based lobbyist who represents Griffith, a 600-megawatt plant.
"Arizona is not an island," Barnes said.
"We belong to the western United States electricity market.
Because of that we should not think (only) of what is good or necessary for Arizona because there is much energy trading between states.
… If every state took the view that we only produced enough energy for its own state, Arizona would be in a lot of trouble."
Barnes and Resal Craven, engineering director of the electric division for Citizens Utilities in Arizona, said the law of supply and demand will determine how many power plants are needed.
"There is a need for additional generation," Craven said.
"There is a basic need for additional transmission to move the generation."
Craven said Citizens, which serves about 71,000 customers in Mohave and Santa Cruz counties, lacks power exchanges.
Its sole supplier, Arizona Public Service in Phoenix, buys power during the summer from the Pacific Northwest and returns power during the winter.
APS' main obligation is serving its customers, spokesman Damon Gross said.
APS covers 11 of Arizona's 15 counties and serves more than 857,000 customers, and its customer base is growing 4 percent a year.
"If we do have excess power, we may sell that on the open market," Gross said.
"Some days, we may have it.
Some days, we won't have it."
APS had forecast peak usage during the summer of 2000 at 5,479 megawatts, and anticipates that figure rising to 5,793 megawatts this summer, Gross said.
"This is the most we have had to output at any one time," he said.
"We try to forecast years in advance."
APS will have a total of 6,500 megawatts available, Gross said, adding unforeseen circumstances such as storms and equipment breakdowns could reduce power generation.
"We do not know how much we are going to have (to sell) on the open market until that given moment," Gross said.
"Our power marketing department will sell on the open market.
It will be (to) utility companies that also operate on the western grid."
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