Tucson Electric Power Co. is making its biggest move yet to add more wind energy, as it ramps up its renewable-energy resources.

TEP said Monday it plans to issue a request for proposals this week for the design and construction of new wind-energy resources that could power up to 31,000 homes annually.

Because Arizona has a relatively weak wind resource, there’s a good chance that the project will be outside the state, TEP spokesman Joe Barrios said.

TEP now has contractual rights to 30 megawatts of operating wind power in Arizona, at the Red Horse combined solar and wind project near Willcox, and 50 MW of power from a wind farm in western New Mexico. The utility also has agreed to buy power from a 100 MW wind project under development, also in western New Mexico.

“It could be located outside of Arizona, but it has to be able to interconnect to our system or delivered to us through a reliable long-term transmission agreement,” Barrios said of the new wind farm, noting that transmission costs and line losses increase over distance.

The utility says it will solicit cost-competitive bids for a wind farm to provide up to 150 MW of wind energy from resources that interconnect with TEP’s system or deliver power through a third-party transmission service.

TEP also said it will consider proposals that include ancillary services or supporting energy-storage systems.

The new wind energy will help TEP work toward its goal of delivering at least 30 percent of its power from renewable resources by 2030, double the state’s 2025 goal, the company said.

Overall, TEP expects to add 800 MW of new renewable capacity by the end of 2030, boosting its total renewable energy portfolio to approximately 1,200 MW.

Under TEP’s new wind plan, the company expects to sign a contract with the successful bidder this year and begin receiving power from the new wind resource by 2021.

TEP said it’s looking to buy more wind now to capitalize on current market conditions, and bidders for the new project will have to compete on price.

“The market’s favorable for wind projects like these, which is good for us and our customers as we look to get the biggest bang for the buck,” Barrios said.

Last May, TEP announced it would pay 3 cents per kilowatt- hour for solar energy from a 100 MW array being built by Florida-based NextEra Energy Resources near South Wilmot Road and Interstate 10. That project will include 30 MW of energy storage.

In August, the U.S. Department of Energy said the average cost of wind power provided through power purchase agreements had fallen to just 2 cents per kilowatt-hour.

“We’re obviously looking for the most cost-effective projects, including energy storage,” Barrios said.

WILDLIFE IMPACT

Wildlife conservation groups will likely be watching the progress of TEP’s big wind project closely amid concerns over the impact of large, utility-scale wind turbines on birds and other flying creatures.

Though the developer of the Red Horse wind project near Willcox agreed to work with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on bird counts and surveys, some conservationists opposed the project because of its proximity to the Willcox Playa, a major stopover for sandhill cranes and other migrating birds.

The American Bird Conservancy estimated that wind turbines caused more than 573,000 bird kills in 2012, and with more wind coming online the group projects wind-farm bird deaths could reach 1.4 million by 2020 or sooner.

“Obviously, it’s an issue that raises concerns, based on the data and statistics,” said Christina McVie, a former conservation chair of the Tucson Audubon Society who stills consults for the group.

And while bird deaths get the most attention, wind turbines can also kill bats and insects like butterflies, which are important plant pollinators, McVie said.

McVie said that while wind-farm operators can do some things to lessen the lethal impact on wildlife, like adjusting blade speeds, the time to address wildlife concerns is when such projects are planned.

“We’re not picking on TEP — it’s a national and international issue,” she said.

Barrios said TEP is aware of the wildlife concerns and will address them based on specific proposals.

“It’s certainly a consideration,” Barrios said. “We’re aware of those types of concerns, and how much they factor into this project will depend on where it’s located and what type of systems are used.”

TEP said its bid request will seek proposals for both long-term power-purchase agreements and build-transfer agreements, in which TEP would purchase the system after construction.

The process is being managed by New Hampshire-based Accion Group.

Potential bidders may register beginning Thursday at Accion’s website, accionpower.com.

Contact senior reporter David Wichner at dwichner@tucson.com or 573-4181. On Twitter: @dwichner. On Facebook: Facebook.com/DailyStarBiz

Reporter

David joined the Star in 1997, after working as a consumer and business reporter in Phoenix for more than a decade. A graduate of Ohio University, he has covered most business beats focusing on technology, defense and utilities. He has won several awards.