By Nick Worth
Mesa State Senator Bob Worsley announced Tuesday that Novo Power, LLC has acquired the idle Snowflake Power Plant and the Catalyst Paper Mill Power Plant located west of Snowflake.
The paper mill and its attached power plant had been in operation since 1961 and closed in October 2012, while the Snowflake Power Plant, a biomass power boiler, began operations in 2008 and closed in March 2013, largely as a result of the closure of the paper mill.
Worsley, a well-known local entrepreneur and the founder of SkyMall, is the majority owner and the chairman of the new Novo Power team, which worked with local investors to repurchase the entire power complex. According to a press release from the Worsley Campaign, the purchase required more than $12 million in working capital to restart the plants.
“I built that facility from 2006 to 2008,” said Worsley. “That’s why I know it so well.”
The current power plant team is being assembled from former employees and management who were laid off when the two plants shut down. Worsley has already begun hiring workers and has pledged to rehire laid off employees who are still looking for work.
Worsley said he has plans to restart both the biomass plant and the coal-fired paper mill power generating plant.
“We’ll be doing it in two phases, starting with the biomass plant,” said Worsley. He said the biomass plant was expected to be running by today or Saturday (Aug. 2 or 3).
“We’re also looking at how to restart the coal-powered plant,” said Worsley. He said Novo Power would either restart the facility as a natural gas fired plant to get around the pollution issues with coal or go in another direction.
“The other possibility was to work with a major university that has contacted us and that wants to demonstrate how to run it as a ‘clean coal’ plant,” said Worsley.
“I have a special place in my heart for the mountain communities. I was raised in Idaho and my best friends growing up in Boise were Flakes from Snowflake,” said Worsley in the press release. “They would come home after vacation in Arizona and talk about the rodeos, and the great way of life in Snowflake. When my wife and I settled in Mesa we purchased property on the mountain because it was our way to stay connected with the pines.”
Worsley said the Rodeo-Chedeski fire had an impact on him.
“I made a commitment after the Rodeo-Chedeski fire in June of 2002 that I would do everything in my power to prevent such a fire from happening again,” he said. “After fighting the financial meltdown of 2008 and the paper mill closure of 2012, this new venture is a recommitment to the promise I made over 11 years ago,” he said.
According to the press release, “Novo Power, LLC will assist with targeted forest thinning and wildland urban interfaces around the small communities in Arizona that suffer from catastrophic wildfires like the Rodeo-Chedeski of 2002, Wallow of 2011 and the 2013 Yarnell fire.”
It is also noted that the Snowflake Power biomass plant generates “enough electricity from processing wood chips from pre-commercial thinning to power most of the residents in the White Mountains, approximately 20,000 homes.”
Asked if Novo Power, LLC is involved in the 4FRI thinning effort, Worsley answered, “Not directly, but we are working with the contractors on the task orders for 4FRI, so all the slash and less-than-five-inch waste material will come to our facility.” He said the biomass plant would be burning the material from the thinning project that would normally be left out in the forest.
“This is a win for Arizona,” Worsley said. “There are four things we are celebrating here, more water for the Roosevelt Watershed, more fire resistant communities, more renewable energy based in Arizona and more jobs in the most economically depressed area of the state.”
Asked about the Roosevelt Watershed, Worsley explained that every tree removed from the forest creates more water as runoff into the Roosevelt Watershed.
Worsley also said Salt River Project (SRP) has contracted, along with Arizona Public Service Co. (APS), to purchase the power from the power plants.
“SRP has contracted to buy the power and they want to ensure that we’re using the waste from the thinning to fuel the plant,” Worsley said.
“So by thinning, we get more water into the watershed,” he said. “When the settlers arrived here in the 1870s, there were 10 trees per acre. Now we have 1,000 trees per acre.”
Worsley told The Tribune-News the reactivated biomass power plant will employ 35 people, and another 60 to 70 jobs will be created in the woods to gather and truck the thinning project waste into the plant.
“The coal plant jobs will probably be in the neighborhood of 150 to 200 jobs,” said Worsley. He estimated there would be from 200 to 300 jobs created when both plants are up and running.
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By Nick Worth