Arizona studying bioenergy for wildfire management

By Anna Simet | August 23, 2017

The Arizona Corporation Commission has ordered Arizona Public Service to evaluate forest bioenergy as part of its resource portfolio.

A May memorandum from Commissioner Boyd Dunn instructed the opening of a docket to explore forest bioenergy, and its current role and impact in Arizona. The memo emphasized the important role forest bioenergy serves in maintaining Arizona's forests, woodlands, and watersheds while creating energy for the grid. “Our history is riddled with examples of the devastating economic, cultural, and ecological impact of Arizona wildfires,” it stated. “In addition, state watersheds, including streams, lakes and reservoirs are at risk of contamination from hazardous runoff coming from the burned areas. Maintaining healthy forests and woodlands through on-the-ground restoration activities reduces the risk and severity of these wildfires.”

It also pointed out that the 2017 federal spending bill directs the U.S. DOE, USDA and the U.S. EPA to develop clear, consistent and simple federal policies relating to forest bioenergy that recognize the full benefits of the use of forest biomass for energy, conservation, and responsible forest management, and that also reflects the carbon-neutral and renewable nature of forest bioenergy. “These efforts should be mirrored in Arizona,” Dunn said.

The topic was formally introduced by Boyd at APS rate application proceedings on Aug. 15.  APS will conduct a 90-day study on forest bioenergy, and then report findings back to the commission and staff. The study will include an examination of at least three scenarios for bioenergy that look at low, medium, and high use.

Commissioner Andy Tobin and Chairman Tom Forese both issued statements in support of Dunn’s efforts. “We have consistently been addressing this topic with community leaders statewide,” Tobin said. “We don’t want to miss an opportunity to find real solutions. APS’s service territory covers the heart of the forests and grasslands most vulnerable to wildfires, and has faced significant costs over the years in infrastructure repairs alone.”

A separate docket on the topic has been opened to continue to explore market development opportunities.

The Arizona Corporation Commission will host its first workshop on the topic of forest bioenergy on Oct. 19.