Using forest waste for energy is not a new concept.
It was 2004 when the first biomass plant, located in Eagar, opened in Arizona — two years after the massive Rodeo-Chediski fire engulfed almost half a million acres of forest, destroying over 400 homes and causing over $43 million in damages.
At the dedication for the Western Renewable Energy plant in Eagar, Corporation Commission Chairman Marc Spitzer called the plant a “win-win-win-win.”
“It’s a win for the forest, it’s a win for clean air, it’s a win for cheaper energy and it’s a win for the rural economy.”
The plant was the first in Arizona to find a commercially-viable use for scraps and small diameter wood, or biomass.
Biomass plants have become more popular since the WRE plant opened 12 years ago.
Former Arizona Sen. Bob Worsley, of Mesa, purchased the old Catalyst Paper Mill plant in Snowflake in 2013, and used biomass to produce energy. Novo Power, LLC, has faced challenges like others in forest industry in the area.
And Show Low’s pellet plant, owned by Forest Energy, became a certified biomass plant two years ago.
Concord Blue, an international energy company based in Germany, plans on opening a biomass plant in Eagar in 2017, using forest waste and possibly pinon and juniper for energy generation.
Last week, as reporter Trudy Balcom reported in today’s Independent, Salt River Project became the first coal-fired power plant to use forest waste for fuel. The company’s test of mixing biomass and coal was successful, and it plans on continuing the experiment.
This could have important implications on the coal industry and jobs in the area.
Here’s why this is important.
Not only do the aforementioned plants create much-needed jobs and sustainable energy with biomass, as Spitzer said 12 years ago, they encourage healthy forests.
The danger of ever-increasing fuel loads in Arizona’s forests, and threats of wildfires, underscores the importance of having viable options in forest industries.
Having a strong wood products industry is just one piece of the multi-faceted equation of protecting our forests’ health and decreasing fire danger.
But it’s an important piece.