Whispering Ranch Electrification Efforts

A Bit of the History on Electricity

When Whispering Ranch was initially platted as a subdivision, there were glorious plans for this to be an oasis in the desert. From the promotional literature I have seen, there were supposed to be lakes, golf courses, shopping centers, hospitals, etc. This was planned to be a "Sun City" environment - just a little farther out. Well, that never happened. Nor did the power grid that was promised by Arizona Public Service as a part of this subdivision development. For years, civilization was still some 20 to 30 miles away in Wickenburg or in Sun City. And a lot of the local residents liked it just fine exactly that way. If they did move out here it was to get away from all of the city insanity. And since hardly anybody moved out here, why would the power company go to the expense of pulling in power lines ? ? This makes perfect business sense from their standpoint. But no progress after 50 years ? ? With all of the growth that is obvious to everyone else in the planning offices in the cities, County and State, it seems like power would be an obvious need. But, no progress to date. Something is amiss.

Then, back in the mid 1990's there was the need by Salt River Project (SRP - the other large power provider company in the area) to run a 500 KV Transmission line right through the middle of Whispering Ranch. Being a public utility company with money, political influence and good attorneys, they got their way, and the power lines went through. But they did make the promise that if the residents went along with having these transmission lines come through, that Salt River Project would provide electrical service for the residents. That was 13 years ago. The power lines came through, and residents awaited the promised arrival of power. Nothing yet. Maybe they (SRP) forgot to tell the Residents that since this area has been assigned to Arizona Public Service Company by the Arizona Corporation Commission (years ago) that they can't come into the area to provide electrical service - unless the Corporation Commission gives them the green light. So once again, something is amiss.

So, after being passed over for more years than anyone wants to recount, we are finally attempting to assemble citizens to make their voices heard on this issue. We know this is going to be a difficult task, so we are moving forward in stages. Our first effort was to get the attention of the Arizona Corporation Commission, the State agency that is charged with regulating public utility companies. The second stage is to contact the families that live in Whispering Ranch and let them know what we are doing and asking that these residents that want to get power to their property contact Arizona Public Service and the Arizona Corporation Commission by phone, e-mail and letters. All we want to know is why this is such a problem. It seems like everybody else can get electrical service - a lot farther out in even more remote rural areas - so why can't we get any attention in this matter after all these years. The third effort will be directed to the property owners who own property in Whispering Ranch to ask that they too become a part of this campaign by calling, e-mailing and writing as well. Hopefully we will soon be able to have another "Tent Event" meeting and have the decision makers present to ask specific questions.

To take a look at a copy of the letter and information that went out to Whispering Ranch Residents on August 11, 2007, click here. The information on how to reach the contact person at Arizona Public Service and the members of the Arizona Corporation Commission are on this letter. Feel free to call, e-mail, or fill in and mail the response area on the last page of the letter. An additional letter is going to be mailed out to all of the property owners who are not residents at Whispering Ranch in the next few weeks to see if they want to join with us in these efforts. Just from the standpoint of raising their property values, it makes sense. And if we can demonstrate that power is needed, and also show that there is finally enough demand from Residents, owners and those interested in moving to "The Ranch", we may start to see some activity toward getting power.

The letter I received from the Arizona Public Service Senior Consumer Advocate on August 13, 2007 is also available to review if you just click here. She indicated that it was OK to post this letter on the web site so everyone would have her information. This letter basically restates what we already knew from the meeting in March 2007, but we now at least have a person to contact who has agreed to listen to what we have to say, and relay the information to the "upstairs" APS management and to the Corporation Commissioners as well.

What is really important here is to make sure we keep in front of whoever can help us in getting power to Whispering Ranch. Whether it is Arizona Public Service, the Arizona Corporation Commission, Salt River Project, County Elected Officials, the Governor, State Congressional delegates, State Senators, or anyone else who will listen. We have the opportunity, all we have to do is take advantage of it.

Power Efforts Update - December 20, 2007

About three weeks ago, I was contacted by the office of Commissioner Kristin Mayes at the Arizona Corporation Commission to see if I could be available for a meeting with her and her staff and representatives from Arizona Public Service Company. I agreed to be at their office at the appointed time.

At 1:30 this afternoon, I went to the Corporation Commission Office and was met there by Bob Greer, Brett Dorcey (two property owners who were a part of the effort to get flyers, e-mails and letters out to as many of the other property owners and residents of Whispering Ranch as possible), Al Smith (long time Whispering Ranch resident who was involved in the past when Salt River Project [SRP] ran the transmission lines through "The Ranch") to provide information on the need for power in "The Ranch". Also attending the meeting was Jeff Guldner, VP of Rates & Regulation for APS, Commissioner Kristin Mayes, and Matthew Derr, Advisor to Commissioner Mayes who had been the recipients of the responses generated by the flyers we had distributed.

In the Commission's conference room, we introduced ourselves and proceeded to outline the need for power in Whispering Ranch. Each of us answered questions about our property, our perception of what the needs would be, and the direction we should take in the efforts to bring power in. Commissioner Mayes asked the APS representatives to outline the previous costs and requirements, how they have changed subsequent to the approved rate increase that went into effect on July 1, 2007, and what the projected costs would be in the near future. Our focus was to explore alternatives to the current charge and rate structure to provide this basic service into the future so the current limitations in the area don't continue to restrict growth. There were discussions of finding specific areas where a group of owners could share the cost of bringing power in to that specific area. Also discussed was a cooperative effort on the part of APS and SRP to provide service. It came to light rather quickly to all present that neither the Corporation Commission no APS had never confronted a situation of this complexity and magnitude. And since so many of the residents still had such a bad taste from the dealings when Salt River Project put the high voltage transmission lines through in 1995, there is a general distrust which will likely prevent residents and owners from arriving at a consensus on the best way to proceed. With all of these cards on the table, everyone has a broader view of the issues, and we should be able to move toward an acceptable solution to bringing in power.

With many options to investigate, it was decided to do more research into a few of the more reasonable possibilities (for all sides concerned), provide more detailed information on the area under consideration and meet again in a few weeks. Commissioner Mayes did agree to accept our invitation to take a tour of Whispering Ranch to get to know the area in greater detail and will let us know when she will have the time available.

Once she is more familiar with the area, what is happening in the area with roadways, other developments and future growth plans, we will hold another meeting and see what options are still on the table toward the goal of solving this ongoing dilemma.

Power Efforts Update - February 26, 2008

At 1:00 this afternoon, I was at the Arizona Public Service Company building downtown to meet on the Whispering Ranch situation. In attendance at the meeting were Bob Greer, Brett Dorcey, Enrico D'Eugenio, Richard Ollinger, Al Smith, (and of course, me) as owners of property in Whispering Ranch who were interested in seeing what could be done toward the goal of bringing a power grid into the area. Representatives for Arizona Public Service were on hand to answer questions and respond to inquiries.

Here's what we were told in a nutshell. APS has no intention to move forward with a project of this size unless the residents are ready to step up with funding. According to APS, the Arizona Corporation Commission won't allow them to charge the costs of this project to all rateholders in the form of a rate increase. So unless we are willing to front the dollars to bring in the power, it ain't coming in. Oh, and just so you know, about a week ago, the credit that your got when you brought power in to your property went by the wayside as well. So not only have we lost the "1000 foot Free Zone", but now the credit we were supposed to get in return for giving up the "1000 foot Free Zone" is gone too. So the residents in Whispering Ranch who were promised power if they voted in favor of letting the Salt River Project 500 KV Transmission Lines run right through the middle of the subdivision, once again, got screwed by the power companies.

So, once again, we are in the finger pointing mode. Arizona Public Service is pointing the finger at the Arizona Corporation Commission stating they would do it but the Arizona Corporation Commission won't let them, the Arizona Corporation Commission is telling Arizona Public Service to explain to them why there is no electrical service availble to about 150 to 200 families in this 29 square mile subdivision. I still think that the Corporation Commission should re-assign the area to SRP and have them provide electrical service.

Think about this. We are the most advanced and affluent nation ever. Phoenix is the fifth largest city in this advanced civilization. Just 50 miles from downtown Phoenix is a subdivision where people live on non-maintained dirt roads, and with no electric to pump water out of a well, they have to haul water in by trailer. It is like being in a third world country. This development was started over 60 years ago and there still are no plans for power. And no one can tell us why. They can just point the finger at the other guy.

Power Efforts Update - June 12, 2008

I received a call this afternoon from Sheila Stoeller, Executive Aide to Commissioner Kristin Mayes. It was an apology that this has taken so long, but with the upcoming APS Rate Request hearings, the Corporation Commission Members have been up to their eyeballs in hearings and studies and requests for information. It appears that Commissioner Mayes is still interested in taking a tour through Whispering Ranch, but it won't be in the near future. At least we still have one member of the Corporation Commission who is concerned about doing the right thing. Those of us who have been at work on this for the past two or three years are thankful for that, at least. I don't expect to have power soon, but I do want to see a plan for the future so we can start to plan the future of this area without having to panic at the last minute and mess up everything.

Power Efforts Update - July 16, 2008

Last week I was contacted by Sheila Stoeller at Commissioner Kristin Mayes office about a casual tour of Whispering Ranch. After juggling schedules, we settled on a date. The suggestion was presented that this just be an informational session, so it was kept informal. I spent all morning on July 15th with Commissioner Kristin Mayes of the Arizona Corporation Commission and her aide Giancarlo Estrada touring around Whispering Ranch. We drove through various areas, looking at where power is available and trying to determine costs, spent a little time visiting with a few of the families that would like electrical service but can't get it brought in because of cost and construction issues. We drove across Whispering Ranch all the way out to the Vulture Mine. As we drove, I pointed out the various houses, the solar panels and wind turbines and generators, the expense and difficulty of having to haul in water to live, answering questions all way. The sheer size of the Whispering Ranch area, the lack of law enforcement or Fire Department access and the current minimum Health and Safety needs lacking in the area all were a real eye opener for Commissioner Mayes and her aide. I know this trip has had a strong impact, and will lead to more activity. She asked if there was a chance we could have another "Tent Event" where she could bring other Corporation Commissioners (once she brought them up to speed on the issues), APS Executives, County Officials involved in Planning and Zoning and Roadway Maintenance and Improvements, and Arizona Department of Transportation Officials to lay out plans for Bridges and Roadway improvements. I told her that if she could assemble that group, I would notify everyone about the meeting and arrange for the tent and tables, hopefully for a turnout that would far exceed our last meeting of this type. But I also told her I wanted the exclusive franchise to rent torches and pitchforks at this meeting - expecting business for those items to be brisk ! !

I was also referred to Max Wilson's office as well. Max Wilson is on the Board of Supervisors for Maricopa County, and is responsible for District 4 where Whispering Ranch resides. On August 1st, Lynn Valverde (another of the prominent Real Estate agents that works in Whispering Ranch) and I met for a couple of hours with Scott Isham, Max Wilson's Chief of Staff and went through the items discussed with Commissioner Mayes. We also went into the past history of Whispering Ranch, how it has changed for the better in the past few years, and what it is going to take for the area to move forward into the future. For years the County has resisted anything proposed in this area. We are now at a point where it will be important for the County to cooperate with us in efforts to bring the basic necessities into this area. Our communication with Supervisor Wilson's office was to make them aware of the previous resistance and see to it that we are able to move forward on a level playing field in the future.

On a personal note, I want to let people know that Commissioner Mayes rolled up her sleeves and honored her comittment to tour the area and see first hand what the issues are. For that, and for her honesty and forthright approach, I commend her. She has demonstrated the strength of principle to address the issue even in the face of dissention from within her own party. It appears we may have stumbled across that rare politician who is indeed a "public servant" doing the right thing for their constitutents. Then again, maybe not. It won't be the first time we have been hoodwinked, and I'm sure it won't be the last.

Solar Farm research and results - Fall 2010

For the past year or so, I have been researching the possibility of using a parcel here and there in Whispering Ranch as a small "solar farm" of photovoltaic panels tied to the grid, producing electrical energy into the grid during daylight hours. What I'm finding is that Maricopa County Planning and Zoning only allows 5% lot coverage under current zoning (most of Whispering Ranch is zoned R-190). On a five-acre parcel, they will only allow about acre of solar panels, leaving 4 acres (or 95% of the parcel) not utilized. That makes this idea economically unfeasible. To generate more power, you should have more panels covering more of the parcel. More lot coverage would require re-zoning the parcel, adding more costs. That presumes that you could even get the County to rezone the property. Evidently, there is currently no allowance made in the Zoning codes for this type of "new" use.

The next issue to address, especially in Whispering Ranch, is that any proposed parcel for this use would have to be in an area where there is already an electrical connection - if not, you have to pay the power company to bring lines in to your property, at the current cost of $200 per foot . You pay the power company to have the lines put in, pay the cost of the poles and any transformer costs and, when completed, this is not your property, but belongs to the power company. So again we have more obstacles that drive up the expense of this potential property use.

Then you will need to have a power purchase agreement with the power company. This is their agreement that they will purchase the power that you generate, and what price they will pay you for the power you feed into the grid. This is an agreement that the power company controls. They can simply say no, or set the rate they will pay you for your energy so low it again is economically unfeasible. They want to sell electricity to consumers at 7 per kilowatt-hour but only pay 3 per kilowatt-hour for what you generate. (These are rough numbers, but you get the idea.)

There are interconnection fees that the power company charges for you to hook up to their lines to feed power back into the grid. In many cases, they charge a fee for doing an analysis to see if connecting to their lines is possible. Even being in an area where there are power lines doesn't mean they will allow you to connect to those lines.

Anyone looking at this idea is faced with huge investment costs up front and a return on investment that is miniscule. At least on a small scale. If you are a large energy company with as much clout as the power companies you are dealing with, then you have a chance. These larger energy companies are pursuing large solar generating facilities, both from a PV (photo voltaic panels) and CSP systems (concentrated solar power which focuses energy on a tube superheating a liquid inside the tube to drive a steam generator). These companies are currently looking for large parcels of vacant land - normally 600 acres minimum - with an ample non-restricted water supply. I know since I have been contacted by a couple of these firms to find land for them. But even these large companies find themselves at the mercy of the power providers . . . power purchase agreements are tough to negotiate, interconnection agreements are just as difficult and you have to invest plenty of non-refundable fees even to get a "no" answer.

The power companies are developing their own "renewable resource generating" plants using ratepayer dollars. If you don't think so, take a look at your last electric bill. Why can't we use some of these same dollars toward expanding the grid toward privately funded business enterprises . . . small solar farms ? ?

What I am pursuing now is trying to determine is if the Arizona Corporation Commission has mandated that 15% of the electricity generated in the future is from renewable sources, i.e. solar, wind, etc., why they are reticent to make any allowances to the current policy toward power purchase agreements, rate tariffs, net metering or interconnection requirements. At this point, the power companies in the various areas are holding all the cards in the game. The power companies have the final say on all of the above items. I strongly believe that in the future, advances in solar power generation (and other renewable resource methods) will allow our power grid to become more decentralized, much like the decentralization brought about by the advances in computers in the 1980's and 1990's. It is apparent that the power companies see these changes in the system and are resisting them as opposed to embracing them. The large power companies are threatened, so they will create obstacles to keep these technologies from working and growing.

Oh, and if you are interested in more information on the Arizona Corporation Commission, you might want to look here. This web site can get you information on how the Corporation was conceived and how it works to protect the interests of the consumer. You can see who is on the Commission and even read through their letters and speeches on various issues. From this portal, you can send an e-mail to the current Commission Members to express your opinions, voice your concerns, or present any new ideas. Keep in mind that this group is not known for thinking "outside the box".

Arizona Public Service Construction Rebates

An interesting development was brought to my attention recently, and after a little research I verified that Arizona Public Service is indeed helping with the cost of bringing utilities in to a property if you are building a home on a property. It was in 2007 that they rescinded their "1000 Foot Free" zone. Previously, if you planned to build a home in their service area, they would provide the first 1000 feet of power to your property at no cost. But they felt too many "developers" were taking advantage of them, so they ended this program. For the past few years, I have been a part of a campaign to re-instate this as a catalyst for development by homeowners looking to build out in Whispering Ranch. It now appears that there is a sliding scale of charges, but they will give you $10,000 credit for a 750 foot power run. You, of course will pay for anything past that distance, and there are some requirements about your planned usage, but it is a step in the right direction. Now if they would only give additional credits toward a "grid-tied solar home" we would have something to "Happy Dance" about. But not just yet. Let's see where this one goes.

Liberty Southwest Realty, LLC

Joseph D. (Joe) Liberty, Designated Broker
20446 North 275th Drive
Buckeye, Arizona 85396
Phone: (602) 505-7675

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