Biomass project aiming for Truckee to go green off steam |

Biomass project aiming for Truckee to go green off steam

Christine Stanley

The Truckee Donner Recreation and Park District’s quarters will soon be kept warm in a unique way.A new small-scale biomass-to-electricity demonstration project will begin running in early November. The project is a joint-effort funded in part by the California Energy Commission, the Truckee Donner Recreation and Park District, and the United States Forest Service. One of only six of it’s kind in the nation, the demonstration site is part of the Truckee Donner Public Utility District’s continuous efforts to increase the use of green technologies. “This is an experimental model used to assess the value and abilities of using alternative sources of power,” said park superintendent John Shaffer. The 15-kilowatt plant works by heating wood chips from dead and decaying trees to an excess of 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit, causing them to disintegrate into a gaseous form. That gas is then used to power a generator that heats the Park and Recreation office, and melt snow on the walkway between the offices and the plant building. There is almost no pollution generated in the process, and trees are not cut down to provide the necessary wood chips because half the point is to dispose of natural forest waste, which aids in regrowth and helps reduce the risk of forest fires, Shaffer explained. This particular project is not designed or expected to be an economic venture, according to Scott Terrell, director of planning for the Truckee Donner Public Utility District. It runs only eight hours a day, five days a week, compared to full-scale energy plants, which typically run 24/7. If the plant were to run at maximum capacity, it could continuously heat three average-sized homes. “It’s an educational tool, not just for our community, but for others in California and Nevada who are looking at larger scale applications,” Terrell said. “I have a feeling that [Truckee] is going to be getting a lot of attention from around the country because of this project. We are trying to show how to make the most efficient and wise use of unused forest resources.” For the past two years the PUD and RPD have been working with the California Energy Commission, and the project’s contractor, McNeil Technologies of Lakewood, Colo., in compiling a feasibility study. The results, which take into account issues like resource availability and economic impact, will be used to determine whether Truckee could benefit from a large-scale biomass facility. “The green benefits are substantial,” said Terrell. “The Forest Service is hopeful that we will build a larger plant because they have a lot of resources that they need to deal with, and a larger bio-mass plant could potentially serve 5 to 10 percent of Truckee’s electric needs.” Some of the concerns gleaned from the study include the size and location of a future plant, and the noise it might produce. “It seems to me like a win-win for everybody involved,” Terrell said.