SRP and Valley Municipalities Join Forces to Invest in Forest Restoration to Help Prevent Devastating Wildfires
Bioenergy investment supports forest restoration and forest product businesses in northern Arizona
As more of Arizona’s forests face catastrophic wildfires that endanger the critical watersheds that serve the Valley, the municipalities of Gilbert, Mesa, Phoenix, Scottsdale and Tempe have joined forces with SRP through the Biomass Power Partnership to help pay for bioenergy that supports strategic forest thinning across the Salt River and Verde River watersheds.
SRP signed a historic agreement with the municipalities to provide funding to extend a purchased power agreement with Novo BioPower in Snowflake, Ariz. that generates renewable bioenergy by processing the small trees that are removed through forest thinning projects in northern Arizona.
“We welcome the commitment of these city leaders who see the need to be proactive and invest in protecting our watersheds from the costly impacts of catastrophic wildfire on the water supply we all depend upon in the Valley,” said Elvy Barton, SRP Manager of Water and Forest Sustainability. “This will help us to restore Arizona’s forests to a more natural condition to ensure SRP can continue to deliver reliable and affordable water.”
A challenge to restoration efforts is finding marketable options for the enormous amount of low-value, small ponderosa pine trees that are removed. Bioenergy is one of the few options available to dispose of these trees. By extending the PPA with Novo Biopower, the partnership supports the bioenergy industry and ensures thinning projects move forward to continue protecting watersheds and mitigating wildfire risk.
The Biomass Power Partnership provides each municipality with Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) based on their contribution. In addition, each city will receive watershed restoration and carbon benefits and support almost 2,000 acres of strategic forest thinning every year.
The 10-year agreement is part of SRP’s 2035 Sustainability Goals to protect the health of the watersheds through partnerships, education and support to thin 500,000 acres of unhealthy overgrown forested lands by 2035.
Arizona forests are at a high risk of catastrophic fires that could significantly impact the watersheds that feed SRP’s reservoir system and provide water to the Valley. Wildfires degrade water quality, significantly increase water treatment costs, and impact water system resiliency by filling reservoirs with debris and sediment. Strategic forest thinning projects in northern Arizona reduce this risk and also protect nearby communities and wildlife habitats.
The Novo Biopower plant uses small trees from forest thinning, other non-marketable woody material such as branches that are left over from thinning operations, and sawmill residues. SRP purchases enough energy from the plant to serve approximately 3,200 average residential homes in the Phoenix metropolitan area.
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.
“Maintaining healthy forests and watersheds within Arizona is critical to Gilbert’s sustainable water portfolio,” said Jessica Marlow, Gilbert Public Works Director. “Without proactive forest restoration efforts, these vital ecosystems will continue to be devastated by wildfires each year. Gilbert is committed to a partnership that helps maintain the resiliency and quality of our water supplies throughout the Valley.”
“The investment by the City of Mesa in this partnership shows our commitment not only to our water customers, but also to the region,” said Chris Hassert, Mesa Water Resources Director. “Safeguarding our water supply stretches beyond our municipal boundaries. The runoff from forest fires negatively impacts water quality and burdens our treatment plants. Protecting the watershed is an important component of healthy and responsible water management.”
“Joining with Salt River Project in this partnership is a crucial step towards protecting our forests and watersheds,” said Phoenix Water Service Director Troy Hayes. “By investing in forest thinning projects and biomass power generation, we are not only mitigating the risk of catastrophic fires but also ensuring the sustainability and quality of our water supply. This agreement exemplifies our commitment to environmental stewardship and renewable energy development, as we work towards a resilient and thriving Phoenix.”
“When we plan for water’s future we must think beyond the tap – that includes our forests and how they can affect the quality of our water,” said Scottsdale Water Executive Director Brian Biesemeyer. “This partnership allows Scottsdale to meet its sustainability mission through biomass energy production, water management improvements, and overall climate benefits while also thinking and planning holistically to protect the quality of this precious resource.”
“This one-of-a-kind partnership between SRP, Valley cities and Novo Biopower demonstrates our commitment to protecting not only Arizona’s forests, but also our most precious resource – water,” said Tempe Mayor Corey Woods. “This agreement has the added benefit of progressing Tempe’s municipal carbon neutrality goal. Every year, we expect to reduce our carbon emissions by 786 metric tons of CO2e, which is the equivalent of supplying 153 homes with electricity for an entire year.”