TEP to end use of coal at Tucson plant, switch to natural gas

TEP to end use of coal at Tucson plant, switch to natural gas

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Tucson Electric Power said it will stop using coal at its largest local power plant and will switch over to mainly natural gas.

TEP said the move is part of its plan to "diversify the resources it relies on to provide safe, reliable and affordable service."

The coal inventory at the H. Wilson Sundt Generating Station is expected to be depleted Aug. 13. Instead of coal, the multi-fuel unit will now rely primarily on natural gas, supplemented by renewable landfill gas and solar.

"Eliminating the local use of coal is an important part of our plan to build a cleaner, more diverse energy portfolio," said TEP President and Chief Executive Officer David G. Hutchens.

TEP's move comes more than two years ahead of a deadline set by the EPA. Recently enacted regulations forced TEP to make a decision: install expensive emission controls for the coal plant or convert to an alternative fuel.

One thing lost in the transition is flexibility for the company and its customers. TEP said the plant can run on coal or natural gas. When the price of coal or natural gas rose, officials were able to switch to the cheaper fuel to keep costs down.

"With the current low cost of natural gas, ending our use of coal at the Sundt Generating Station is a cost-effective way to improve our environmental performance while preserving the reliability of our local electric service," Hutchens said. "This step serves the best interests of our customers, our community and the environment."

TEP said its Integrated Resource Plan calls for cutting the coal-fired generating capacity by more than 30 percent and reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent over five years.

Tucson News Now's Barbara Grijalva will have more on the story, including on how this change could affected your electric bill. She can be followed on Twitter at @BGrijalvaKOLD.

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