Arizona public power utility Salt River Project (SRP) has approved a contract to continue purchasing renewable energy from a biomass plant in the state that will provide baseload power while helping to cut the risk of devastating forest wildfires in northern Arizona.
The 10.5-year purchase power agreement with Novo BioPower will use wood chips from strategic forest thinning efforts in the SRP watersheds focusing on the East Clear Creek watershed projects and including the White Mountain Apache Tribal lands.
The SRP capacity output of the plant will support approximately 80,000 acres of strategic forest thinning over the next 10 years while providing renewable power for customers.
In a news release, the utility said that the forested lands of northern Arizona have been hit by devastating wildfires and are primed for more infernos like those that have impacted Arizona, California, and Colorado. Many forested lands in northern Arizona have thousands of trees per acre and suffered from extreme drought, which can fuel large wildfires with catastrophic impacts.
"To decrease the risks of forest wildfires, partnerships like this enable thinning projects to be conducted across the SRP watersheds, restoring forests and watersheds to more natural conditions and avoiding wildfires devastating impacts on the natural ecosystem, rural communities and the Valley’s water supply. These partnerships are critical for the success of forest thinning projects throughout the state." said Elvy Barton, SRP Forest Health Management Principal.
SRP is working with the U.S. Forest Service and other entities on a number of strategic forest thinning projects that will help mitigate the forest wildfire threat and provide fuel for the renewable power plant.
So far, more than 5,700 acres of trees are being thinned and about 16,000 acres are planned in the next four years.
“Finding economically positive uses for the huge volume of biomass on the National Forests is a major barrier to overcome in order to ensure the long-term protection of critical watersheds in northern Arizona. The Novo BioPower provides the only existing market for low-grade biomass material,” SRP said.
Among SRP’s sustainability goals are a pledge to help thin 500,000 acres on the SRP watersheds by 2035 and an expanded pledge to add 2,025 MW of new utility-scale solar energy to SRP’s renewable portfolio by 2025.