Commitments and Contingencies
Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station
Spent Nuclear Fuel and Waste Disposal
On December 19, 2012, APS, acting on behalf of itself and the participant owners of Palo Verde, filed a second breach of contract lawsuit against the United States Department of Energy ("DOE") in the United States Court of Federal Claims ("Court of Federal Claims"). The lawsuit sought to recover damages incurred due to DOE’s breach of the Contract for Disposal of Spent Nuclear Fuel and/or High Level Radioactive Waste ("Standard Contract") for failing to accept Palo Verde's spent nuclear fuel and high level waste from January 1, 2007 through June 30, 2011, as it was required to do pursuant to the terms of the Standard Contract and the Nuclear Waste Policy Act. On August 18, 2014, APS and DOE entered into a settlement agreement, stipulating to a dismissal of the lawsuit and payment of $57.4 million by DOE to the Palo Verde owners for certain specified costs incurred by Palo Verde during the period January 1, 2007 through June 30, 2011. APS’s share of this amount is $16.7 million. Amounts recovered in the lawsuit and settlement were recorded as adjustments to a regulatory liability and had no impact on the amount of reported net income. In addition, the settlement agreement provides APS with a method for submitting claims and getting recovery for costs incurred through December 31, 2016.
APS has submitted two claims pursuant to the terms of the August 18, 2014 settlement agreement, for two separate time periods during July 1, 2011 through June 30, 2015. The DOE has approved and paid $53.9 million for these claims (APS’s share is $15.7 million). The amounts recovered were primarily recorded as adjustments to a regulatory liability and had no impact on reported net income.
Public liability for incidents at nuclear power plants is governed by the Price-Anderson Nuclear Industries Indemnity Act ("Price-Anderson Act"), which limits the liability of nuclear reactor owners to the amount of insurance available from both commercial sources and an industry retrospective payment plan. In accordance with the Price-Anderson Act, the Palo Verde participants are insured against public liability for a nuclear incident up to $13.5 billion per occurrence. Palo Verde maintains the maximum available nuclear liability insurance in the amount of $375 million, which is provided by American Nuclear Insurers ("ANI"). The remaining balance of $13.1 billion of liability coverage is provided through a mandatory industry-wide retrospective assessment program. If losses at any nuclear power plant covered by the program exceed the accumulated funds, APS could be assessed retrospective premium adjustments. The maximum retrospective premium assessment per reactor under the program for each nuclear liability incident is approximately $127.3 million, subject to an annual limit of $19 million per incident, to be periodically adjusted for inflation. Based on APS’s ownership interest in the three Palo Verde units, APS’s maximum potential retrospective premium assessment per incident for all three units is approximately $111 million, with a maximum annual retrospective premium assessment of approximately $16.6 million.
The Palo Verde participants maintain "all risk" (including nuclear hazards) insurance for property damage to, and decontamination of, property at Palo Verde in the aggregate amount of $2.8 billion, a substantial portion of which must first be applied to stabilization and decontamination. APS has also secured insurance against portions of any increased cost of replacement generation or purchased power and business interruption resulting from a sudden and unforeseen accidental outage of any of the three units. The property damage, decontamination, and replacement power coverages are provided by Nuclear Electric Insurance Limited ("NEIL"). APS is subject to retrospective premium assessments under all NEIL policies if NEIL’s losses in any policy year exceed accumulated funds. The maximum amount APS could incur under the current NEIL policies totals approximately $23.1 million for each retrospective premium assessment declared by NEIL’s Board of Directors due to losses. In addition, NEIL policies contain rating triggers that would result in APS providing approximately $61.7 million of collateral assurance within 20 business days of a rating downgrade to non-investment grade. The insurance coverage discussed in this and the previous paragraph is subject to certain policy conditions, sublimits and exclusions.
There have been no material changes, as of March 31, 2016, outside the normal course of business in contractual obligations from the information provided in our 2015 Form 10-K. See Note 2 for discussion regarding changes in our long-term debt obligations.
The Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act ("Superfund") establishes liability for the cleanup of hazardous substances found contaminating the soil, water or air. Those who generated, transported or disposed of hazardous substances at a contaminated site are among those who are potentially responsible parties ("PRPs"). PRPs may be strictly, and often are jointly and severally, liable for clean-up. On September 3, 2003, EPA advised APS that EPA considers APS to be a PRP in the Motorola 52nd Street Superfund Site, Operable Unit 3 ("OU3") in Phoenix, Arizona. APS has facilities that are within this Superfund site. APS and Pinnacle West have agreed with EPA to perform certain investigative activities of the APS facilities within OU3. In addition, on September 23, 2009, APS agreed with EPA and one other PRP to voluntarily assist with the funding and management of the site-wide groundwater remedial investigation and feasibility study work plan. We estimate that our costs related to this investigation and study will be approximately $2 million. We anticipate incurring additional expenditures in the future, but because the overall investigation is not complete and ultimate remediation requirements are not yet finalized, at the present time expenditures related to this matter cannot be reasonably estimated.
On August 6, 2013, the Roosevelt Irrigation District ("RID") filed a lawsuit in Arizona District Court against APS and 24 other defendants, alleging that RID’s groundwater wells were contaminated by the release of hazardous substances from facilities owned or operated by the defendants. The lawsuit also alleges that, under Superfund laws, the defendants are jointly and severally liable to RID. The allegations against APS arise out of APS’s current and former ownership of facilities in and around OU3. As part of a state governmental investigation into groundwater contamination in this area, on January 25, 2015, the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality ("ADEQ") sent a letter to APS seeking information concerning the degree to which, if any, APS’s current and former ownership of these facilities may have contributed to groundwater contamination in this area. APS responded to ADEQ on May 4, 2015. We are unable to predict the outcome of these matters; however, we do not expect the outcome to have a material impact on our financial position, results of operations or cash flows.
Southwest Power Outage
On September 8, 2011 at approximately 3:30 PM, a 500 kilovolt ("kV") transmission line running between the Hassayampa and North Gila substations in southwestern Arizona tripped out of service due to a fault that occurred at a switchyard operated by APS. Approximately ten minutes after the transmission line went off-line, generation and transmission resources for the Yuma area were lost, resulting in approximately 69,700 APS customers losing service.
On September 6, 2013, a purported consumer class action complaint was filed in Federal District Court in San Diego, California, naming APS and Pinnacle West as defendants and seeking damages for loss of perishable inventory and sales as a result of interruption of electrical service. APS and Pinnacle West filed a motion to dismiss, which the court granted on December 9, 2013. On January 13, 2014, the plaintiffs appealed the lower court’s decision. On March 2, 2016, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit unanimously affirmed the District Court's decision. The plaintiffs filed a Petition for Rehearing En Banc, which was denied on April 11, 2016.
APS is subject to numerous environmental laws and regulations affecting many aspects of its present and future operations, including air emissions, water quality, wastewater discharges, solid waste, hazardous waste, and coal combustion residuals ("CCRs"). These laws and regulations can change from time to time, imposing new obligations on APS resulting in increased capital, operating, and other costs. Associated capital expenditures or operating costs could be material. APS intends to seek recovery of any such environmental compliance costs through our rates, but cannot predict whether it will obtain such recovery. The following proposed and final rules involve material compliance costs to APS.
Regional Haze Rules. APS has received the final rulemaking imposing new requirements on Four Corners, Cholla and the Navajo Generating Station ("Navajo Plant"). EPA and ADEQ will require these plants to install pollution control equipment that constitutes best available retrofit technology ("BART") to lessen the impacts of emissions on visibility surrounding the plants.
Four Corners. Based on EPA’s final standards, APS estimates that its 63% share of the cost of these controls for Four Corners Units 4 and 5 would be approximately $400 million. In addition, APS and El Paso Electric Company ("El Paso") entered into an asset purchase agreement providing for the purchase by APS, or an affiliate of APS, of El Paso's 7% interest in Four Corners Units 4 and 5. When APS, or an affiliate of APS, ultimately acquires El Paso's interest in Four Corners, Navajo Transitional Energy Company, LLC ("NTEC") has the option to purchase the interest within a certain timeframe pursuant to an option granted by APS to NTEC. In December 2015, NTEC notified APS of its intent to exercise the option. APS is negotiating a definitive purchase agreement with NTEC for the purchase of the 7% interest. The cost of the pollution controls related to the 7% interest is approximately $45 million, which will be assumed by the ultimate owner of the 7% interest.
Navajo Plant. APS estimates that its share of costs for upgrades at the Navajo Plant, based on EPA’s Federal Implementation Plan ("FIP"), could be up to approximately $200 million. In October 2014, a coalition of environmental groups, an Indian tribe and others filed petitions for review in the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit asking the Court to review EPA's final BART rule for the Navajo Plant. We cannot predict the outcome of this review process.
Cholla. APS believes that EPA’s final rule as it applies to Cholla, which would require installation of selective catalytic reduction ("SCR") controls with a cost to APS of approximately $100 million (excludes costs related to Cholla Unit 2 which was closed on October 1, 2015), is unsupported and that EPA had no basis for disapproving Arizona’s State Implementation Plan ("SIP") and promulgating a FIP that is inconsistent with the state’s considered BART determinations under the regional haze program. Accordingly, on February 1, 2013, APS filed a Petition for Review of the final BART rule in the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Briefing in the case was completed in February 2014.
In September 2014, APS met with EPA to propose a compromise BART strategy wherein, pending certain regulatory approvals, APS would permanently close Cholla Unit 2 and cease burning coal at Units 1 and 3 by the mid-2020s. (See Note 3 for details related to the resulting regulatory asset.) APS made the proposal with the understanding that additional emission control equipment is unlikely to be required in the future because retiring and/or converting the units as contemplated in the proposal is more cost effective than, and will result in increased visibility improvement over, the current BART requirements for NOx imposed on the Cholla units under EPA's BART FIP. APS’s proposal involves state and federal rulemaking processes. In light of these ongoing administrative proceedings, on February 19, 2015, APS, PacifiCorp (owner of Cholla Unit 4), and EPA jointly moved the court to sever and hold in abeyance those claims in the litigation pertaining to Cholla pending regulatory actions by the state and EPA. The court granted the parties' unopposed motion on February 20, 2015. On October 16, 2015, ADEQ issued the Cholla permit, which incorporates APS's proposal, and subsequently submitted a proposed revision to the SIP to the EPA, which would incorporate the new permit terms. APS is unable to predict when or whether APS's proposal may ultimately be approved by the EPA.
Mercury and Air Toxic Standards ("MATS"). In 2011, EPA issued rules establishing maximum achievable control technology standards to regulate emissions of mercury and other hazardous air pollutants from fossil-fired plants. APS estimates that the cost for the remaining equipment necessary to meet these standards is approximately $8 million for Cholla (excludes costs related to Cholla Unit 2 which was closed on October 1, 2015). No additional equipment is needed for Four Corners Units 4 and 5 to comply with these rules. Salt River Project Agricultural Improvement and Power District ("SRP"), the operating agent for the Navajo Plant, estimates that APS's share of costs for equipment necessary to comply with the rules is approximately $1 million. The United States Supreme Court’s 2015 decision in Michigan vs. EPA reversed and remanded the MATS proceeding back to the DC Circuit Court. The Circuit Court then remanded the MATS rule back to EPA to address rulemaking deficiencies identified by the Supreme Court. On April 14, 2016, EPA took action to resolve these deficiencies by issuing a revised "appropriate and necessary" finding, which is a prerequisite to regulating hazardous air pollutants emitted by power plants under the Clean Air Act, to expressly evaluate the costs of the MATS regulation. Further litigation concerning the propriety of this finding is expected. These proceedings do not materially impact APS. Regardless of the results from further judicial or administrative proceedings concerning the MATS rulemaking, the Arizona State Mercury Rule, the stringency of which is roughly equivalent to that of MATS, would still apply to Cholla.
Coal Combustion Waste. On December 19, 2014, EPA issued its final regulations governing the handling and disposal of CCR, such as fly ash and bottom ash. The rule regulates CCR as a non-hazardous waste under Subtitle D of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act ("RCRA") and establishes national minimum criteria for existing and new CCR landfills and surface impoundments and all lateral expansions consisting of location restrictions, design and operating criteria, groundwater monitoring and corrective action, closure requirements and post closure care, and recordkeeping, notification, and Internet posting requirements. The rule generally requires any existing unlined CCR surface impoundment that is contaminating groundwater above a regulated constituent’s groundwater protection standard to stop receiving CCR and either retrofit or close, and further requires the closure of any CCR landfill or surface impoundment that cannot meet the applicable performance criteria for location restrictions or structural integrity.
Because the Subtitle D rule is self-implementing, the CCR standards apply directly to the regulated facility, and facilities are directly responsible for ensuring that their operations comply with the rule’s requirements. While EPA has chosen to regulate the disposal of CCR in landfills and surface impoundments as non-hazardous waste under the final rule, the agency makes clear that it will continue to evaluate any risks associated with CCR disposal and leaves open the possibility that it may regulate CCR as a hazardous waste under RCRA Subtitle C in the future.
APS currently disposes of CCR in ash ponds and dry storage areas at Cholla and Four Corners. APS estimates that its share of incremental costs to comply with the CCR rule for Four Corners is approximately $15 million, and its share of incremental costs for Cholla is approximately $40 million. The Navajo Plant currently disposes of CCR in a dry landfill storage area. APS estimates that its share of incremental costs to comply with the CCR rule for the Navajo Plant is approximately $1 million. Additionally, the CCR rule requires on-going groundwater monitoring. Depending upon the results of such monitoring at each of Cholla, Four Corners and the Navajo Plant, we may be required to take corrective actions. Because the initial monitoring at these plants is not yet complete, at the present time expenditures related to potential corrective actions cannot be reasonably estimated.
Clean Power Plan. On August 3, 2015, EPA finalized carbon pollution standards for existing, new, modified, and reconstructed electric generating units ("EGUs"). EPA’s final rules require newly built fossil fuel-fired EGUs, along with those undergoing modification or reconstruction, to meet CO2 performance standards based on a combination of best operating practices and equipment upgrades. EPA established separate performance standards for two types of EGUs: stationary combustion turbines, typically natural gas; and electric utility steam generating units, typically coal.
With respect to existing power plants, EPA’s recently finalized “Clean Power Plan” imposes state-specific goals or targets to achieve reductions in CO2 emission rates from existing EGUs measured from a 2012 baseline. In a significant change from the proposed rule, EPA’s final performance standards apply directly to specific units based upon their fuel-type and configuration (i.e., coal- or oil-fired steam plants versus combined cycle natural gas plants). As such, each state’s goal is an emissions performance standard that reflects the fuel mix employed by the EGUs in operation in those states. The final rule provides guidelines to states to help develop their plans for meeting the interim (2022-2029) and final (2030 and beyond) emission performance standards, with three distinct compliance periods within that timeframe. States were originally required to submit their plans to EPA by September 2016, with an optional two-year extension provided to states establishing a need for additional time; however, it is expected that this timing will be impacted by the court-imposed stay described below.
Prior to the court-imposed stay described below, ADEQ, with input from a technical working group comprised of Arizona utilities and other stakeholders, was working to develop a compliance plan for submittal to EPA. Since the imposition of the stay, ADEQ reports that it is continuing to assess its options while completing outreach and soliciting feedback from stakeholders. In addition to these on-going state proceedings, EPA has taken public comments on proposed model rules and a proposed federal compliance plan, which included consideration as to how the Clean Power Plan will apply to EGUs on tribal land such as the Navajo Nation.
The legality of the Clean Power Plan is being challenged in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit; the parties raising this challenge include, among others, the ACC. On February 9, 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court granted a stay of the Clean Power Plan pending judicial review of the rule, which temporarily delays compliance obligations under the Clean Power Plan. We cannot predict the extent of such a delay.
With respect to our Arizona generating units, we are currently evaluating the range of compliance options available to ADEQ, including whether Arizona deploys a rate- or mass-based compliance plan. Based on the fuel-mix and location of our Arizona EGUs, and the significant investments we have made in renewable generation and demand-side energy efficiency, if ADEQ selects a rate-based compliance plan, we believe that we will be able to comply with the Clean Power Plan for our Arizona generating units in a manner that will not have material financial or operational impacts to the Company. On the other hand, if ADEQ selects a mass-based approach to compliance with the Clean Power Plan, our annual cost of compliance could be material. These costs could include costs to acquire mass-based compliance allowances.
As to our facilities on the Navajo Nation, EPA has yet to determine whether or to what extent EGUs on the Navajo Nation will be required to comply with the Clean Power Plan. EPA has proposed to determine that it is necessary or appropriate to impose a federal plan on the Navajo Nation for compliance with the Clean Power Plan. In response, we filed comments with EPA advocating that such a federal plan is neither necessary nor appropriate to protect air quality on the Navajo Nation. If EPA reaches a determination that is consistent with our preferred approach for the Navajo Nation, we believe the Clean Power Plan will not have material financial or operational impacts on our operations within the Navajo Nation.
Alternatively, if EPA determines that a federal plan is necessary or appropriate for the Navajo Nation, and depending on our need for future operations at our EGUs located there, we may be unable to comply with the federal plan unless we acquire mass-based allowances or emission rate credits within established carbon trading markets, or curtail our operations. Subject to the uncertainties set forth below, and assuming that EPA establishes a federal plan for the Navajo Nation that requires carbon allowances or credits to be surrendered for plan compliance, it is possible we will be required to purchase some quantity of credits or allowances, the cost of which could be material.
Because ADEQ has not issued its plan for Arizona, and because we do not know whether EPA will decide to impose a plan or, if so, what that plan will require, there are a number of uncertainties associated with our potential cost exposure. These uncertainties include: whether judicial review will result in the Clean Power Plan being vacated in whole or in part or, if not, the extent of any resulting compliance deadline delays; whether any plan will be imposed for EGUs on the Navajo Nation; the future existence and liquidity of allowance or credit compliance trading markets; the applicability of existing contractual obligations with current and former owners of our participant-owned coal-fired EGUs; the type of federal or state compliance plan (either rate- or mass-based); whether or not the trading of allowances or credits will be authorized mechanisms for compliance with any final EPA or ADEQ plan; and how units that have been closed will be treated for allowance or credit allocation purposes.
In the event that the incurrence of compliance costs is not economically viable or prudent for our operations in Arizona or on the Navajo Nation, or if we do not have the option of acquiring allowances to account for the emissions from our operations, we may explore other options, including reduced levels of output, as an alternative to purchasing allowances. Given these uncertainties, our analysis of the available compliance options remains on-going, and additional information or considerations may arise that change our expectations.
Other environmental rules that could involve material compliance costs include those related to effluent limitations, the ozone national ambient air quality standard and other rules or matters involving the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act, the Navajo Nation, and water supplies for our power plants. The financial impact of complying with current and future environmental rules could jeopardize the economic viability of our coal plants or the willingness or ability of power plant participants to fund any required equipment upgrades or continue their participation in these plants. The economics of continuing to own certain resources, particularly our coal plants, may deteriorate, warranting early retirement of those plants, which may result in asset impairments. APS would seek recovery in rates for the book value of any remaining investments in the plants as well as other costs related to early retirement, but cannot predict whether it would obtain such recovery.
Federal Agency Environmental Lawsuit Related to Four Corners
On December 21, 2015, several environmental groups filed a notice of intent to sue with Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement ("OSM") and other federal agencies under the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”) alleging that OSM’s reliance on the Biological Opinion and Incidental Take Statement prepared in connection with a federal environmental review were not in accordance with applicable law. The environmental review was undertaken as part of the United States Department of the Interior's ("DOI's") review process necessary to allow for the effectiveness of lease amendments and related rights-of-way renewals for Four Corners. This review process also required separate environmental impact evaluations under the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”) and culminated in the issuance of a Record of Decision justifying the agency action extending the life of the plant and the adjacent mine.
On April 20, 2016, the same environmental groups followed through with their notice of intent to sue by filing a lawsuit against OSM and other federal agencies in the District of Arizona. Expanding upon the December 2015 ESA notice, the lawsuit alleges that these federal agencies violated both the ESA and NEPA in providing the federal approvals necessary to extend operations at the Four Corners Power Plant and the adjacent Navajo Mine past July 6, 2016. We are monitoring the proceedings and intend to request the right to intervene in the litigation. We cannot predict the outcome of this matter or its potential effect on Four Corners.
New Mexico Tax Matter
On May 23, 2013, the New Mexico Taxation and Revenue Department ("NMTRD") issued a notice of assessment for coal severance surtax, penalty, and interest totaling approximately $30 million related to coal supplied under the coal supply agreement for Four Corners (the "Assessment"). APS’s share of the Assessment is approximately $12 million. For procedural reasons, on behalf of the Four Corners co-owners, including APS, the coal supplier made a partial payment of the Assessment in the amount of $0.8 million and immediately filed a refund claim with respect to that partial payment in August 2013. The NMTRD denied the refund claim. On December 19, 2013, the coal supplier and APS, on its own behalf and as operating agent for Four Corners, filed a complaint with the New Mexico District Court contesting both the validity of the Assessment and the refund claim denial. On June 30, 2015, the court ruled that the Assessment was not valid and further ruled that APS and the other Four Corners co-owners receive a refund of all of the contested amounts previously paid under the applicable tax statute. The NMTRD filed an appeal of the decision on August 31, 2015.
On March 16, 2016, APS and the coal supplier entered into a final settlement agreement with the NMTRD with respect to the Assessment. Pursuant to the final settlement agreement, the NMTRD agreed to release the Assessment, dismiss its filed appeal, and release its rights to any other surtax claims with respect to the coal supply agreement. APS and the other Four Corners co-owners agreed to forgo refund rights with respect to all of the contested amounts previously paid under the applicable tax statute, as well as pay $1 million. APS's share of this settlement payment, together with its share of the partial payment described above is approximately $0.8 million.
In the normal course of business, we obtain standby letters of credit and surety bonds from financial institutions and other third parties. These instruments guarantee our own future performance and provide third parties with financial and performance assurance in the event we do not perform. These instruments support certain debt arrangements, commodity contract collateral obligations, and other transactions. As of March 31, 2016, standby letters of credit totaled $79 million and will expire in 2016. As of March 31, 2016, surety bonds expiring through 2018 totaled $150 million. The underlying liabilities insured by these instruments are reflected on our balance sheets, where applicable. Therefore, no additional liability is reflected for the letters of credit and surety bonds themselves.
We enter into agreements that include indemnification provisions relating to liabilities arising from or related to certain of our agreements. Most significantly, APS has agreed to indemnify the equity participants and other parties in the Palo Verde sale leaseback transactions with respect to certain tax matters. Generally, a maximum obligation is not explicitly stated in the indemnification provisions and, therefore, the overall maximum amount of the obligation under such indemnification provisions cannot be reasonably estimated. Based on historical experience and evaluation of the specific indemnities, we do not believe that any material loss related to such indemnification provisions is likely.
Pinnacle West has issued parental guarantees and has provided indemnification under certain surety bonds for APS which were not material at March 31, 2016.