The possible construction of a co-regeneration power plant in Tusayan took an interesting turn last week with news from Arizona Public Service.
Tim McDonald, senior technologies engineer for Pinnacle West, the parent company of APS, announced a new concept that could lead to 17 biomass-to-energy power plants around Arizona by 2012. And Tusayan has been mentioned as a possible site.
"At this stage, the concept is still just 3 1/2 weeks old," McDonald said in a phone interview Thursday. "We’re still investigating technology options. But it appears there’s a lot of interest and support in communities, so it’s positive. The next step will be seeking and prioritizing host sites."
Federal law is requiring 1.1 percent of retail energy to be derived from "renewables" by 2007. An Environmental Portfolio Standard also requires 60 percent of that energy to originate through solar power with the other 40 percent from other sources. The project is working on a $12 million per year budget.
"It’s all contingent on the Environmental Portfolio Standard continuing long term and is contingent upon other non-solar renewable projects that might come and are of value for the funds we have to invest," McDonald said. "But we see a lot of value on these biomass collaborations."
As the guest speaker of a Greater Flagstaff Forests Partnership forum earlier this month, McDonald went over forest issues that play a role in the necessity for such power plants. Overgrown thickets, multi-year drought, explosive fires, an increasing forest-fire fuel through bark beetle damage, forest thinning initiatives, small-diameter timber industries and wood-waste disposal were all brought up as current issues.
Pete Shearer and John Quinn, Tusayan residents and South Grand Canyon Sanitary District board members, were among those in attendance at the March 4 meeting in Flagstaff.
"Their primary goal is to generate electricity using biomass, so there are benefits to the forest," Shearer said. "I asked about heating the school (proposal for new high school in Tusayan) and reducing the waste stream, and that got a lot of smiles."
As indicated, there are various requirements with the EPS, including the non-solar power sources. Among those options are landfill gas to energy, wind, biogas from wastewater treatment plants, geothermal and biomass gasification, or direct burning.
That last option has been on the minds of Tusayan residents holding an interest in a future co-regeneration plant.
Tusayan has been seeking grant money to fund a feasibility study for the co-regeneration plant. APS committed $25,000 to that effort with other sources now being tapped by a local committee. With matching funds, the grand total available for the study could be $60,000, which should get the job done.
"The funding would finance somebody professional to come out and do all the necessary findings to see if the project would be feasible," said Barry Baker of Halvorson-Seibold Partnership.
Baker said there are now two things to look at with the idea of a co-regeneration plant. First, the ongoing quest for funding is needed to determine if the project would be feasible and appropriate for the area. Secondly, APS has become a big part of this with their green energy mandates.
"APS seems to be very committed to assisting in this process of co-regeneration and the use of forest fuels to promote energy," Baker said. "The eventual goal obviously, if we get funding, would be to work in very close cooperation with APS to move the project forward — if it proves to be feasible in the first place."
Before getting excited about any future options, Baker said the feasibility study needs to be done. If funding can be obtained by this summer, Baker said "we would like to see that feasibility study completed within roughly a 12-month period of time ... about this time next year, which is good because it apparently correlates with the APS plan."
McDonald said those timelines could match up with his company’s plans, which he reiterated are in the early stages because of cash flow. But with the technology that is available, things could roll along quite nicely after getting started in 2004-05.
"If we go with the technology that is at the top of my list right now, it appears the delivery of equipment could occur on a cyclable basis," McDonald said, adding that some estimates have a new plant being started every nine months. "We could actually do it faster than that based on cash flow. You could have two to three orders in place at one time and stage it out when it could be delivered on site and start the next project."
McDonald said APS would pay for the design, construction and electrical connection costs for each plant, if those were the wishes of a community.
"They would own the plant," Shearer said. "Or we could own and operate the plant. They would share technology with us. If we don’t have enough fuel to operate at three megawatts (per hour), they’re looking at alternative ways of generating electricity."
The technology would be standard throughout all of the biomass-to-energy plants.
"All plants have the same system, the same parts," Shearer said. "That’s a big plus because we would have a huge resource to draw upon if we do have problems."
If built in Tusayan, locals would provide land, fuel, water, permits, licensed boiler operators and other agreements, such as with interconnections. McDonald said the host site would operate the plant on a day-to-day basis.
Quinn said the plant would require 10 acres of land and water shouldn’t be a problem with a dry purification method to be used. There would also be the expense of building lines.
Besides Tusayan, other potential sites include Bellemont, Eager, Heber, Joseph City, Prescott, South Buckeye, San Carlos, Show Low and Whiteriver. Shearer said Williams was also mentioned at the meeting.
"It’s exciting to be involved in this, if APS takes care of the permits, buying green energy and we can have a healthy forest and reduce the waste steam," Shearer said.
Rick Stahn, district ranger at Tusayan for Kaibab National Forest, said there’s still research to be done on the project, but said things sounded good.
"We’re very interested in this project because we think it will help the community greatly with waste and help the forest by getting rid of small-diameter (trees)," Stahn said. "We’re interested and pursuing it."