Utilities Would Like to Speak to the Manager About Your Tweets

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Utilities Would Like to Speak to the Manager About Your Tweets
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Photo: Susan Montoya Bryan (AP)

Until recently, Autumn Johnson thought that criticizing utilities that were putting more dirty energy on the grid was all in a day’s work. “As an environmentalist, it is my job to be calling attention to doubling down on fossil fuels when we’re in the midst of a climate crisis,” she said.

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But earlier this month, when she began publicly criticizing a recent decision by the Salt River Project (SRP), one of Arizona’s largest utilities, something surprising happened: Someone at the utility, she said, complained to her employer. Johnson’s experience isn’t unique, and highlights how utilities, some of the countries’ biggest decision-makers on energy policy, can also be some of the most sensitive players in the energy space, prone to shutting down valid criticisms or concerns about their policies and decisions—especially ones posted on social media.

At the end of August, SRP announced it wanted to build 16 new gas units at one of its generating stations, adding a whopping 820 additional megawatts of fossil fuel power to the grid. SRP has also claimed that that gas power would, incredibly, help the utility meet its sustainability and renewable energy goals. Natural gas is a major source of methane, a greenhouse gas 80 times worse than carbon dioxide. This seemingly last-minute plan riled up renewable energy advocates, environmentalists, investors, and the community at-large in Arizona.

As part of what she thought was her job at Western Resource Advocates (WRA), a nonprofit dedicated to conserving the Southwest’s land, water, and ecosystems, Johnson began tweeting about the project. She said that her “reason to take to Twitter and media broadly” is that average people have “no other avenues to push back” on utility decisions.

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