The Salt River Project has approved a contract to continue purchasing renewable energy from a Snowflake biomass plant that will provide reliable baseload power.
The contract, according to a news release, will also help 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 more than 3,000 SRP customers. SRP manages the water supply for much of the Valley – most of which comes from 8.3 million acres of land in northern Arizona.
Snowfall and rain provide the water that travels through the watershed into SRP reservoirs, which is then delivered to 2.5 million homes and businesses in the Phoenix metropolitan area via an extensive network of canals.
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.
"Each year, hundreds of thousands of acres of forested lands across Arizona remain at high risk of catastrophic wildfire," said Elvy Barton, SRP Forest Health Management Principal. "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."
Elvy said these types of partnerships are critical for the success of forest thinning projects throughout the state.
"In addition to forest health, this project will provide a reliable source of baseload renewable energy to SRP customers," he said.
According to the release, 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. It will also have the added benefit of providing more jobs in rural areas, increasing infrastructure and equipment investments, and helping drive rural economic development opportunities.
"Fire and water are the largest natural resource issues that face Arizona in the coming century. We are grateful that SRP has agreed that the impact of our biomass facility on the forest, watershed, air, and economy is worth the continuation of our facility," Novo Biopower President and CEO Brad Worsley said. "Novo Biopower is committed to continuing this great work to combat the generational challenges that Arizonans face in our forests and watersheds."
Novo currently supports directly and indirectly more than 650 jobs and 15 different forest product industries currently operating in Arizona. Research also shows that forest thinning projects support as many as 39.7 direct and indirect jobs per $1 million invested, which is in alignment with SRP’s investment with Novo BioPower.
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.
"The plant can support a forest product industry that is thinning 15,000 to 20,000 acres per year," said Leslie Meyers, SRP Chief Water Executive and Associate General Manager of Water Resources. "In order to make consequential progress in protecting Arizona’s forests and watersheds from another catastrophic wildfire, thinning must increase to 40,000 to 50,000 acres of forested land per year. New or expanded forest product industry is essential to reach the increased acreage goals."
Regarding to the renewable portfolio, SRP also plans to add nearly 450 MW of battery storage by 2023 which is one of the largest battery storage commitments in the West.
SRP is also preparing to announce several new storage projects in the coming months.