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Sun, Aug. 09

Grant climate halts further co-gen study

Despite promising findings in an initial feasibility study, a lack of grant money has halted further exploration into a three-megawatt, biomass-fueled power plant for Tusayan, at least for now.

According to Barry Baker, chairman of the Tusayan-Grand Canyon Sustainable Energy Project, the Forest Service and APS, who had helped pay for the initial study, declined to fund a deeper look into costs and the environmental impact.

The Forest Service's interest was the same as the committee's ­ finding cleaner alternatives to open burning following thinning projects, with forest waste estimated to comprise some 75-85 percent of the fuel used to run the plant with the rest coming from the municipal waste stream. However, Baker said they passed over Tusayan's grant application earlier this year in favor of projects that would have a direct effect on the reduction of forest fuels.

"What was explained to us was that the people that made the decision on funding were interested in seeing more immediate results in the forest," he said. "So people that were applying for grants for machinery to do thinning and other immediate reduction of the fuels were being accepted, with money for studies as a lower priority."

APS, whom the committee had turned to for a matching grant, also declined to fund further study because of new criteria for renewable energy set forth by the Arizona Corporation Commission. APS was exploring projects like the Tusayan plant anticipating that the ACC would require a larger percentage of their electricity to come from renewable sources.

While the ACC voted at the end of October to increase that percentage from 1.25 to 15 percent by 2025, they structured incentives to help utility companies buy rather than develop their own generation capacity from renewable sources.

About a third of that will have to come from direct generation ­ that is from entities who develop self-contained generation systems for their own needs and sell the excess.

"The goal is that they want private business to develop the power and then sell that power to the existing utilities," Baker said. "The existing utilities would then get full credit for the power that they purchase from these private entities."

While electric customers already pay a surcharge to subsidize renewable energy development and purchase, many other technologies are competing with biomass to get those dollars, including wind, solar, biogas and geothermal.

The Tusayan committee has been exploring biomass gasification, a process that is cleaner but also more expensive than combustion.

It would cost about four times what APS pays for a kilowatt of power generated from established fossil fuel technologies ­ more than the utility is willing to pay at this time, Baker said.

"Where that leaves us on the co-gen committee is kind of on an on-hold basis until the demand and price become a little more equalized," he said.

When that happens, there will be no need to go back and repeat the initial study.

"The data accumulated to this point is all good, solid data," he said.

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