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Arizona utility regulators explore forest biomass for power

December 17, 2017

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — Arizona utility regulators are exploring ramping up the use of forest biomass for power.

The first-ever workshop on forest bioenergy was hosted by the Arizona Corporation Commission earlier this month in Flagstaff.

Representatives from some of the state’s largest utilities, businesses, nonprofits, the Forest Service, and state and local governments all had a chance to weigh in at the workshop, which focused on the problem of biomass in Arizona’s forests and the opportunities and commercial viability of using that forest material to generate power.

“We’re looking at...addressing it in a way that we can make some significant progress in bringing back the health of our forests,” Commissioner Boyd Dunn, who initiated the workshop, told the Arizona Daily Sun. “We’re here discussing an opportunity to address this whole issue by utilizing the Arizona Corporation Commission as a catalyst.”

Among the topics discussed was what it might cost ratepayers to support an expansion of bioenergy in the state, with estimates ranging from $4 per month to less than $1 per month.

“The impact to the consumer will be negligible,” said Brad Worsley, the CEO of the state’s only utility-scale biomass power plant in Snowflake, as he discussed costs of building another plant in Arizona.

Biomass refers to the branches, needles, treetops and small trees that must be removed from a forest during tree thinning, but aren’t useful for traditional lumber products.

The Forest Service and others involved in forest restoration in northern Arizona say that one of the biggest challenges to speeding up much-needed thinning of the region’s forests is finding a way to use up biomass.

The other option is to leave it on the ground and burn it, but that is time-intensive, costly and produces smoke that affects nearby residents.

Grinding up the biomass and burning it for power not only uses up the biomass but turns the material into a valuable product.

Several people at the workshop emphasized that the cost to expand bioenergy in order to promote the restoration of Arizona’s forests shouldn’t be borne by APS customers alone.

The speakers pointed out that forest restoration and biomass removal creates healthier forest habitat, improves recharge of ground and surface water sources and reduces the risk of catastrophic wildfires, which can cause major damage to drinking water resources and air quality across the state.

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Information from: Arizona Daily Sun, http://www.azdailysun.com/

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