ST. JOHNS — Apache County Natural Resources liaison Bruce Greco is working on an idea to help local companies sell biomass to J.A. International, a South Korean company that purchases biomass from all over the globe, some of it used for things like pellets for wood stoves, bu the vast majority used for cleaner-than-coal renewable energy.
J.A. International needs certified wood products to be able to sell on the world market and for their renewable energy operations. They could get that by using biomass from the White Mountains.
Greco said he has been working with Coconino County officials, The Nature Conservancy, industry partners, and with people in the Ecological Restoration Institute at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff on the viability of such an idea.
Greco said he has a vision of making Apache County a distribution point for biomass since it is, at least in his opinion, such a potentially profitable possibility and because it is plentiful in the White Mountain forests.
Both Navajo and Apache Counties are rich in biomass resources.
The 4-Forests Restoration Initiative (4-FRI) has, since its beginning seven years ago, thinned about 15,000 acres of the originally hoped for 300,000 acres in local forests. There is still more than 700,000 acres in target areas within the 4-FRI’s most recent request for proposals (RFP) to thin and from which to garner a lot of suitable biomass.
“And that is a conservative estimate,” Greco said.
Greco said more than a century of complete fire suppression has left forests all over the nation littered with tons of small growth trees that choke out old growth ones, and is fuel for wildfires.
He said a demonstration that was done in Bellemont near Flagstaff last month where biomass was chipped on-site and filled 60 containers that were sent to the West Coast for shipment to J.A. International near Seoul, South Korea.
Greco said it is proof that a partnership between a company like J.A. International, contracted local industry partners and the state could work to the benefit of everyone involved.
He said that if all of the parties who would necessarily have to be involved will get onboard, it could take as little as one year for it to become reality.
Greco said J.A. International needs 500 tons of biomass annually to meet their needs and is looking for a reliable 20-year supply, which he said, is certainly available in the forests of the 4-FRI region.
Greco said the White Mountain forests could contribute siginificantly to that 20-year supply.
He said the necessary things like having Interstate 40 and the BSNF Railroad as methods for transporting biomass are already in place, noting that it is almost the perfect storm to make it all happen.
He said all parties will look at the idea again in October to see how it is going.
One of the things Greco said is important to him is that whatever deal is made with the South Korean company, he wants to try minimize impacts to entities like the Cholla Power plant and NovoPower, the only Arizona power plant using exclusively biomass for fuel, is minimal.
The Cholla Power plant is one of the areas largest employers and is scheduled to close by 2025 unless it converts from a coal burning plant to renewable energy like biomass from forest thinning.
He said just as important to him is that local wood products companies that have weathered the economic storms in recent years benefit from any deal made with any company for forest biomass.
“I want to make sure they stick around an also profit from what could be a very big economic boon for the area,” Greco said.