Biomass: Turning A Big Problem Into A Solution

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As we watch the success of the Snowflake White Mountain Biomass Power Plant, we ask ourselves the question, why can't it be us?

The biomass plant was recently issued $39.25 million in bonds by the Industrial Development District of Show Low to finance the plant.

The plant should be in full operation by the end of 2007. The plant will sell its generated power to Arizona Public Service. The energy created by the plant will serve Snowflake, Show Low and the Pinetop-Lakeside areas.

Why doesn't the Rim Country, surrounded as it is by national forest, by brush and accumulating fuels from recent fire breaks, have the ability to do the same thing?

As it stands now, our biomass fuel will be burned over the winter and all that it will generate is smoke.

Navajo County, home of the new biomass plant, has shown us that we are wasting a bountiful natural resource, and it should inspire area residents to focus their political and economic energy to make something happen here.

Already, discussion is on the table.

On May 6, 2006, a group of people interested in the potential of biomass-generated power toured Payson. The group included Ed Armenta from the Payson Ranger District, Gila County Supervisor Tommie Martin, Roy Miller from Arizona State University, Jerry Payne, a Forest Service biomass energy specialist, and Gary Snider, ecological economist with Northern Arizona University School of Forestry.

They visited the facilities in Payson that might be candidates for generating their own electricity using biomass from our forest.

They visited Payson Regional Medical Center, the Payson Public Library and Payson High School.

In Rim Country, when we talk about biomass, we are talking about brush, wood and grasses that have been cleaned out of the forest.

By burning this biomass, energy can be created on a large or small scale. The fuel is burned and the heat is used to heat water to make steam. The steam turns turbines. The turbines turn generators and electrical power is distributed from there just as it would be through any other power plant.

Tommie Martin said she has been closely watching the progress of the plant near Snowflake. The residents of that area have an incredible amount of biomass created by the Rodeo-Chediski fire. Rim Country is faced with much the same problem from our own fires and beetle kill.

We believe the timing and the environment are perfect for a local biomass plant. The only question is how to make that happen.

Martin said, the first thing we have to do is educate ourselves about biomass as a power source.

"If they are interested in this, a certain amount of public pressure needs to come to bear," she said.

This can be done by contacting your representative in Congress and the Legislature, through letters to the editor and by calling the Gila County offices to show your interest in the project.

"People need to let us know who they know in the industry," Martin said. "We do not want to find another way to subsidize something industry can solve.

"We are so quick to run to the treasury to solve the problem. We should instead run to the economy."

With a biomass station, we could heat and cool homes and provide electricity to municipal buildings.

"This biomass is sitting out there threatening us," Martin said. "We have a way to turn a big problem into a big solution."

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