Airport, fire district join Truckee in biomass study

TRUCKEE, Calif. — A regional biomass facility in Truckee is a step closer to reality following approval of a feasibility study by the Truckee Fire Protection District Board of Directors and Truckee Tahoe Airport District Board of Directors.

Truckee Fire approved going forward with the project, which will cost $120,000 for a pair of studies, at its June 21 board of directors meeting; while the airport district board unanimously approved moving forward with the studies at its meeting the following day. The Town of Truckee, the airport district, and Truckee Fire will split the cost of the studies, which is estimated to be roughly $90,000 to determine which type facility is the best option, and another $30,000 to complete marketability study on biochar and whether it is a cost-effective revenue stream.

Biochar is a lightweight black residue made of carbon and ashes, and is used in a range of purposes including soil amendment, water and air filtration, construction material additive, and more.

Wildephor Consulting Services, LLC, is being contracted to complete the study. In August, the airport district, Truckee Fire Protection District, and Truckee entered into an agreement with Wildephor Consulting to complete a scoping study. The three partner agencies, which revealed Truckee generates 25,000 cubic yards of green waste annually. Additionally, the tipping fee for Tahoe Truckee Sierra Disposal at Eastern Regional Landfill has more than doubled since 2018. Green waste is also projected to increase by three times in the coming years due to Measure T, which is a parcel tax that is expected to generate roughly $3.7 million per year for wildfire mitigation and prevention programs.

Defensible space programs are expected to generate 1,600 bone dry tons of green waste per year, according to Wildephor Consulting’s report. Truckee Fire is estimated to generate two thirds of the towns green waste through its defensible space and forest treatment programs. Of that amount, Wildephor said about half the material could be used as a fuel source.
In its second phase of scoping, Wildephor found two potential options for Truckee — biomass gasification power and combined heat and biochar system.

Biomass gasification is a process where green waste feedstock is heated in an oxygen-limited environment in order to prevent combustion, creating a hydrocarbon-rich synthesis gas that can be combusted in a gas turbine or chemically converted to a liquid or gas biofuel. The system, which would likely be constructed on airport land, could potentially provide power to the airport, town hall, fire station, and police department during main grid outages.

A combined heat and biochar system converts biomass feedstocks into heat, creating biochar and generating relatively small amount of electricity. The largest source of revenue for this option would be from biochar sales, and a marketability study on biochar would need to be completed in order to determine if a combined heat and biochar system is cost-effective for the town and its partners.

Truckee Tahoe Airport Board Member Mary Hetherington expressed concern over emissions, potential smoke at the airport, storing of green waste, permitting costs, and startup and shutdown frequency at the plant.

“I support it because I think this is an interesting idea … but I want those things addressed in your study,” said Hetherington before making a motion to approve of going ahead with the project.

With the three partner agencies on board, Wildephor Consulting Principal David Featherman indicated the earliest a plant would begin operating is late 2024.

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