By Ann Becker, APS Vice President of Sustainability
I recently read an article in the Arizona Republic titled “Population growth brings greater climate risks to metro areas, report says, but also hope.” As the vice president of sustainability for the state’s largest utility, Arizona Public Service, you can imagine that it caught my eye. I oversee a team responsible for charting the course for our clean energy commitment, which is to provide customers with 100% clean, carbon-free energy by 2050.
The article highlights insights from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s recently released report, Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. The IPCC, along with the world’s top climate scientists, warn that the only way to avoid the most catastrophic impacts of climate change is to limit warming to 1.5° Celsius above pre-industrial levels. To do so, the U.S. has set a goal to achieve net-zero carbon emissions globally by 2050. It’s a herculean—but not impossible—lift. And APS is committed, and on track, to help reach that goal.
The Arizona Republic article outlines the concern for the growing climate crisis, and I share that concern; personally, it’s a topic that sometimes keeps me up at night. In Arizona, like the rest of the world, we are seeing the growing onslaught of the alarming side-effects of climate change. Wildfire “season” is a relic of the past; wildfires now happen year-round. The desert southwest is experiencing unprecedented heat and extreme drought.
And yet—I have hope. One line in the article, from Diane Pataki, the director of ASU’s School of Sustainability, particularly resonated with me: "Changing energy sources away from fossil fuels has enormous potential in Arizona, of course, because it's just got this incredible potential for solar. Electrifying transportation and securing renewable energy sources is within our grasp. That's absolutely what we should be working on.” My response? Great news! This is precisely what we are doing at APS.
At APS, we’ve made a promise to our customers, our employees and our communities to do what is right for the people and prosperity of our state. It isn’t always easy or obvious but doing what is right drives our sustainability work at APS. I realize those can just seem like words, so let me share some of the actions we’ve taken to address climate change since making our clean energy commitment in January 2020:
- Exiting Coal. We will end all coal-fired generation by 2031, seven years sooner than previously projected.
- We are working to ensure a just and equitable transition for the communities impacted by these coal plant closures.We proposed $144 million toward financial and economic development support for these communities, as they transition from fossil fuels to clean energy. While the Arizona Corporation Commission has approved only a small portion of our total proposal, we are committed to our company-funded share of $26.1 million and will continue to work to secure future funding of the full balance of the Coal Communities Transition plan.
- Adding Clean Resources. Our energy mix is already 50% clean – and that percentage is growing. Since 2020, we've procured nearly 1,400 megawatts of additional clean energy and storage.
- Solar: We are increasing our solar portfolio by 310 MW which will be in service by 2023.
- Energy Storage: We are adding 561 MW of energy storage by 2024, including batteries at our large-scale solar sites to serve customers with solar after sunset.
- Wind: We’ve procured 438 MW to be in service by 2023.
- Demand Response: Realizing the cleanest megawatt is one we don’t generate, we’re partnering with thousands of residential customers to support energy conservation and strengthen service reliability. Through APS Cool Rewards, our residential smart thermostat program, our customers can help us shed more than 80 megawatts of energy from APS's grid.
- Partnering with Customers. Innovative technology and programs help customers manage their energy use, better align solar production with customer demand and support our clean energy goals.
- One way customers are helping us meet our clean energy goals is through rooftop solar. In fact, about 15% of all single-family homes in APS territory now have a solar system, and that number keeps growing.
- Residential customers have installed more than 57,000 smart thermostats through our Cool Rewards program. Customers benefit from incentives and more efficient energy usage, and the program can help shed more than 80 megawatts of energy during times of high demand on the grid.
- In the APS Residential Battery Pilot, we are partnering with residential customers to learn more about the capabilities of home battery storage units.
- We are teaming with customers to create more access to electric vehicle charging stations through our Take Charge AZ program.
- Our new Green Power Partners program provides businesses with new options to reach their sustainability goals and transition to 100% clean operations.
- Exploring New Technologies. Achieving our clean energy commitment will require continued advances in energy technology.
- Hydrogen is a promising clean energy resource, and our new Hydrogen Energy Initiatives project allows us to explore opportunities and investments in that sector.
- We are partnering with the Electric Power Research Institute and other utilities on the Low-Carbon Resources Initiative, which focuses on accelerating the development and demonstration of low- and zero-carbon energy technologies.
- Tracking Our Progress. Knowing that what is measured is managed, we’ve set ambitious metrics to keep us on path to our overall goal – and our progress has earned recognition from third parties as well.
- Between 2014 and 2021 we reduced groundwater consumption by 32% and continue to look for ways to conserve this precious resource.
- Our parent company, Pinnacle West, was recognized by the global environmental non-profit CDP for leadership in corporate sustainability with a prestigious A- score. Pinnacle West is one of only two North American electric utility companies to achieve leadership scores for tackling climate change and protecting water security.
These are just a few of the highlights; we are adding actions to this list every day on our path to clean.
Do we face headwinds? Of course. At the federal level, we have not seen legislation move forward that meaningfully addresses climate change while protecting affordability and reliability for customers. In addition, the disappointing outcome of our rate case in November 2021 makes our path forward more challenging—but it does not change where we are headed. We remain fully committed to deliver 100% clean, carbon-free energy to our customers by 2050. As we said when we announced our commitment in 2020, collaboration is key to our plan’s ultimate success, and we’ll continue to partner with customers and stakeholders to create a sustainable energy future for Arizona.
I don’t know exactly what the future holds, but I am proud to work for an organization that is guided by sound science to advance a healthy environment—all while maintaining affordable, reliable services for our customers.
Arizona is a beautiful place to live. Together, we can keep it that way. We’re committed to doing our part.