TEP power-line project in Midtown under Corp Comm review

A plan by Tucson Electric Power that would see new high-voltage transmission lines strung across central Tucson is being reviewed by state regulators.

The aim of the Midtown Reliability Project is to replace outdated, lower-voltage equipment in an area the includes historic neighborhoods, businesses, and the University of Arizona campus.

TEP has identified 10 preliminary alternative routes for new overhead power lines, which are being reviewed in TEP’s application for a certificate of environmental compatibility, filed with the Arizona Corporation Commission.

A public meeting on Monday will include time for residents to provide comments on the plan.

Last year, city voters shot down an agreement between the city of Tucson and TEP that would have continued a grant of “franchise” privileges for the utility, and required placing the new power lines underground. That work would have been paid for by a new 0.75% “community resilience fee” in addition to the current 2.25% monthly fee on electric bills paid by TEP customers within the city.

According to TEP, the current system is nearing its peak capacity and struggles to meet the area’s growing energy demands which results in reduced electric reliability and longer power outages on some circuits.

TEP’s 46 kV system was originally designed to meet the energy demands of homes and businesses built during the mid to late 20th century but, although many of these buildings remain, their energy consumption has significantly increased over time.

Population growth, the shift from evaporative cooling to air conditioning, and the widespread use of electronic devices have increased the demand on the local energy grid, the company said.

Some transformers serving central Tucson are more than 50 years old, and other parts of the grid in the area are even older. Some of the current equipment is rated as “poor” or “very poor” and creates a risk of low voltage and outages.

The Midtown Reliability Project aims to upgrade these older systems and install a new overhead transmission line and substation that will connect Midtown neighborhoods to a modern 138 kV system.

TEP plans to complete construction of the project by summer 2027.

Before proceeding with construction, TEP must obtain the certificate of environmental compatibility from the ACC.

The CEC application will undergo review by the Arizona Power Plant and Transmission Line Siting Committee during a public hearing scheduled to start at 1 p.m. on Monday, July 8, 2024, at the DoubleTree Reid Park Hotel at 445 S. Alvernon Way. The hearing will also be streamed online.

Public comments can be made during an evening session, beginning at 5:30 p.m. The session will be conducted both virtually and in person.

The company and city officials have yet to work out another renewal of the franchise agreement to put to voters for approval.