Election May Give New Hope For Arizona Biomass

A major reshuffling of candidates for the Arizona Corporation Commission may bring new life to a derailed effort that would expand biomass utilization in the state to help facilitate much-needed forest thinning and restoration efforts. A state court judge recently threw multiple candidates off the ballot due to irregularities in signature-gathering, including an incumbent and the commission’s biggest biomass supporter.

The commission has five members. Republican Lea Marquez Peterson is an incumbent who supports a biomass mandate for the state; the other Republican incumbent is against it. Three seats are open, so that means if two candidates who support the mandate are elected, the effort stands a better chance of moving forward.  Candidates are on both sides of the issue, and some haven’t taken a position.

Increasing utilization of biomass is critical to forest health in Arizona, where officials are looking to restore millions of acres while reducing wildfire risk. Most involved agree that lack of biomass markets is severely hampering restoration progress. The commission previously voted down a proposal requiring utilities in the state to produce up to 90MW annually from biomass. The federal Four Forest Restoration Initiative (4FRI) has treated 15,000 acres since 2012 as opposed to its goal of 50,000 acres a year, with lack of markets a big reason for coming up short.

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