COOLIDGE — More people means more electricity. Due to increasing regional population, Salt River Project’s Coolidge Generating Station, located on the southern edge of the city, will more than double in size over the next five years.
The expansion of the project is being framed as necessary for SRP’s increased renewable commitments, despite the station's running on natural gas.
SRP representatives explained that the potential confusion is because in order to accommodate increased solar and other renewables on the grid, the utility will have to assure it can provide power at peaking times.
“When the sun goes down or it's not windy, those renewables cannot generate power directly,” said SRP spokeswoman Erica Sturwold.
Sturwold added that while SRP is investing in battery storage and has two pilot projects it is currently monitoring, battery capacity is not yet enough to offset the need for other sources of electricity.
SRP’s stated goal is to add 2,025 megawatts of solar energy by 2025, and 350 megawatts of battery storage by 2023.
In addition to three new solar plants to help support Facebook’s data center in Mesa, SRP is actively working on a number of other new solar projects.
“There’s no doubt we are going to meet our expanded commitment,” Sturwold said on the company’s renewable projections. “It’s also definitely needed because of the sheer near-term energy demand we are seeing.”
The Coolidge expansion is being planned as a peaking resource; times of maximum energy need include very hot summer days, when air conditioners are running well into the evening hours. Due to climate change, the need to counteract extreme heat in the Valley will continue to intensify.
SRP is anticipating a 16% increase in peak energy demand by 2025, up to 1,200 megawatts.
Despite the close proximity to the scene of a natural gas line fire that killed two Coolidge residents, Sturwold confirmed that the broken pipeline was not connected to the generating station, on Randolph Road west of Sunshine Boulevard, and did not impact the site at all.
SRP paused operations the day of the accident to allow for an investigation, but got assurance from pipeline owner Kinder Morgan that it was a different pipeline, and the Coolidge station recently passed inspections in June.
The Coolidge gas plant was constructed by TransCanada in 2011 and was bought by SRP in 2019. Currently the site has 12 turbines. The expansion will add an additional 16 generating stacks, which are expected to be nearly identical to the current 85-foot-tall units at the site. Construction is expected to begin in 2023, with all of the new units going online by 2025.
City Economic Development Director Gilbert Lopez said that officials are excited for the potential benefits to Coolidge.
Although the power generated by the plant will go to cities and towns in Maricopa County, the construction will generate jobs and over $76 million in property taxes from 2024 to 2033.
“That’s a really good benefit to us,” Lopez said. “They’ve been a good, transparent neighbor.”
SRP is hoping to hold a virtual open house on the expansion by late September, and depending on the COVID situation and federal guidance, could hold in-person meetings later in the fall.
Those interested in learning more about the expansion project can check out www.srpnet.com/cep.
COOLIDGE — Coolidge’s band program has a reputation for being “a little gem out in the middle of the desert.”
So says Coolidge’s new band instructor, Alex Lunardi, who was so enamored of the district’s reputation that he was convinced to move all the way from Omaha, Nebraska, to lead the program.
“I was told to apply for the position by Professor Chad Nicholson at UofA (Arizona),” Lunardi said. “He said it was a fantastic program, it got me really curious. I did research and saw the band has regional and national acclaim.”
Lunardi arrived in Coolidge after having taught elementary orchestra for over a year in Nebraska and was previously the conductor of the Kanesville Symphony Orchestra in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Lunardi has a master’s degree in instrumental conducting with a specialty in wind instruments.
Over the past several years the marching band has gotten at least second place in a number of regional competitions. Lunardi said the “big focus” would continue to be on that band, but he also hoped to grow the concert band program over the next several years. Lunardi described concert band as more geared toward classical music literature, but said the instruments are the same.
This year the marching band’s theme is “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” and Lunardi will focus on the contrast between “tame, beautiful” sections of music versus “more rambunctious and angry elements.”
One big challenge for the program will be to bring on board more students. While at one point prior to the pandemic the high school band had over 100 members, Lunardi said it has been down to 32.
“I believe if we put forth a good sound product, and look good, more students will want to join us,” Lunardi said.
Currently the program includes a marching band class at the high school and a beginning/intermediate course for middle schoolers. Lunardi is also teaching guitar for the middle grades.
Lunardi said that the most important thing for the district’s band program is consistency in leadership, and he fully intends to provide that. Lunardi also praised the elementary school band teachers for their work and coordination to help facilitate a seamless transition for students through schools and band classes.
Lunardi said he would maintain the band’s very high expectations and standards, including practice requirements, but that students are up to the task.
“I think the kids have been fantastic,” Lunardi said. “They all show genuine curiosity in music and are excelling. It’s been really amazing how well they’ve adapted.”
Lunardi also said parents' willingness to help out with support and donating instruments has been monumental, providing flutes, clarinets and a trombone.
“I’m feeling welcome and like I’m fitting in,” Lunardi said. “There is a lot of pride in this city’s band program.”
The band will continue to play at football games — Lunardi said that Friday went “really, really well” — and will have their first show performance at Canyon del Oro High School in Tucson on Sept. 25. October will be “Bandtober,” Lunardi said, with three competitions that month.
Those interested in helping the band by donating old instruments — Lunardi said the biggest need is for larger things like tubas and brass — that are in playable condition can contact Lunardi at Alexander.Lunardi@coolidgeschools.org.