Biomass plant in Kings Beach: Analyzing economics, operations in Loyalton
KINGS BEACH, Calif. and#8212; Smoke emissions, heavy trucking traffic, pungent smells and noise and#8212; they all accompany biomass operations in Loyalton, and itand#8217;s possible they can disturb residents residing in proximity, a regional expert said.
Jim Turner, operations manager of the Sierra Pacific Industries-owned biomass plant in Loyalton, emphasized during a recent meeting of the North Tahoe Citizen Action Alliance that while he is neither for nor against a plant being built in Kings Beach, most Loyalton residents, save for a few detractors, are tolerant of the plant there.
Nevertheless, Turner said biomass plants present some negative impacts to the local environment.
and#8220;When people come to the plant, the first thing they notice is the smell,and#8221; he said.
In Loyalton, large semi-trailer trucks haul wood and green waste into the plant, Turner said. Once itand#8217;s burned, it emits smoke, water vapor and other assorted chemicals into the atmosphere; the amount emanating from the plantand#8217;s smoke stack varies according to type of the wood, he said.
For example, ponderosa, white pine, oak and juniper represent the most efficient burners and#8212; they burn hotter for longer and#8212; while needles and assorted green refuse tend to burn less efficiently and#8212; a shorter time period emitting more smoke.
Dry wood optimally burns at 8,400 BTUs (British Thermal Units), Turner said, which is approximately half as efficient as coal, which burns in the range of 13,500-15,000 BTUs.
Brett Storey, project manager for Placer County, maintains the county is conducting an environmental review of the Kings Beach project, meaning it is premature to jump to conclusions or draw unfair comparisons.
He further said the Loyalton plant was erected in 1988, and cleaner air technologies have improved significantly since, meaning comparisons between Loyaltonand#8217;s 20-megawatt plant and the possible basin-based plant are inapt.
and#8220;It may very well be true that the parcel is too close to homes and a school,and#8221; Storey said. and#8220;We donand#8217;t know those details yet, and we wonand#8217;t know until the review process is complete. However, if it is true, we wonand#8217;t build the facility.and#8221;
Storey said the environmental study will analyze, among other things, the number of homes in proximity to the proposed building, the amount of emissions from the plant and trucks and the direction of prevailing winds.
Placer County Supervisor Jennifer Montgomery said a biomass facility could and#8220;create partial solutions to a lot of the problems in the basin,and#8221; including a reduction in the amount of pile burning that occurs in the forest, reducing transportation costs for material suppliers and creating a few jobs, in a previous Sun report.
However, North Shore resident Dave McClure, vice president of NTCAA, questions the economic feasibility of a Lake Tahoe Basin-based plant.
and#8220;Iand#8217;m not against biomass,and#8221; he said. and#8220;The difference is and#8212; I donand#8217;t see the need to spend millions of dollars in public subsidies for an uneconomic plant, when there is a plant in Loyalton that could easily incorporate 1 to 3 megawatts.and#8221;
At this point, a total price tag has yet to be estimated for the project.
The Loyalton plant halted operations in August; Turner said Sierra Pacific Industries is negotiating with NV Energy over energy rate pricing. Turner said SPI would like to continue biomass operations, provided it pencils out financially.
McClure said on-site pile burning is cheaper, to the tune of $700 per acre, while the cost of collecting and hauling the materials can reach $3,500 per acre.
U.S. Forest Service Spokeswoman Lisa Herron confirmed pile burning costs in the range of $50-$600 per acre, depending on factors such as terrain, pile size, fuel size, pile number, pile arrangement and number of acres to be burned.
Meanwhile, biomass costs range from $500-$3,000 per acre depending on how much effort is required to remove materials, she said, as biomass cost per acre includes paying workers to collect the wood and convey it to the truck, and paying associated transportation costs, including driver compensation and fuel.
Agencies like the forest service that gather biomass typically garner between $25 to $65 per bone dry ton in revenue from the biomass plant operator; however, due to lengthy transportation, the forest service loses money, said Herron.
McClure said the idea of avoiding transportation costs associated with hauling the material to remote locations is fallacious, as those costs are negligible; transportation costs equate to 20 to 60 cents per driver time mile, and the difference between hauling the material from Cabin Creek (the location of the processing facility) to Kings Beach as opposed to Cabin Creek to Loyalton is a matter of 25 miles and#8212; not enough to and#8220;completely shift the economic scale.and#8221;
According to Google Maps, the estimated mileage from Cabin Creek Road to the center of Loyalton and#8212; take state highways 89 and 49 and#8212; is 43 miles.
The forest service does not have available statistics for driver time mile, said Spokeswoman Cheva Heck, adding that transportation costs were a significant factor when undertaking biomass operations.
and#8220;It adds to the contractorsand#8217; costs, which adds to ours,and#8221; Heck said.
Herron said trucking costs were about $300 per load for a 60-mile trip in 2008 when fuel prices spiked at more than $4 per gallon. Each load contains about 20-25 tons of material depending on the size of the truck, Heck said.
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