Arizona's largest electricity utility plans to test whether a coal-fired plant can instead be fueled by wood chips from pine trees, a conversion that could keep part of the plant open and save jobs of some its workers.
Forest thinning that would produce the biomass for Arizona Public Service Co.'s Cholla Power Plant near Holbrook also would reduce the threat of destructive wildfires, The Arizona Republic reported this week.
"A conversion at Cholla would ultimately assist in forest thinning, thereby reducing wildfire potential, ensuring forest health, and protecting our watersheds," APS Vice President of Regulation Barbara Lockwood said in a March 20 letter to regulators.
One of the plant's four units is already closed, and Arizona Public Service Co. otherwise plans to shut down both of its remaining units in 2025. That's when utility PacifiCorp also plans to close the one unit it owns.
About 200 people work at the Cholla Power Plant.
It is unclear how many jobs would remain should the plant convert to coal, but it's unlikely the full staff would be needed because only one of three generators would be converted.
After a 60-day test, Arizona Public Service will update the Arizona Corporation Commission regarding whether converting the coal generator to burn biomass would be cost efficient, officials said.
"Part of what we are trying to do here is explore all options," said Arizona Public Service Resource Planning Director Jeff Burke.
Like many power sources, one of the main concerns with burning pine trees is the greenhouse-gas emissions that such plants generate.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers the electricity from forest biomass to be carbon neutral and to not contribute to climate change.