Boost for biomass |

Boost for biomass

Ryan Salm/Sierra Sun file photoRodney Lacey sits at the controls of the Sierra Pacific Industries biomass co-generation plant in Loyalton, north of Truckee. Placer County is receiving funding to build a smaller, more modern biomass plant in the Tahoe Basin.

While just in the planning stages, efforts to construct a biomass plant in the Tahoe Basin received a half-million-dollar boost late last year.

On the day after Christmas, Placer County officials announced they will receive federal funding for several county projects, including almost $500,000 to fund research for a wood-chip power plant in eastern Placer County. Biomass co-generation takes leftovers from forest thinning ” limbs, bark and other slash ” and burns it to produce power

Proponents of biomass say that the process is a win-win situation: Forests are cleared of flammable material and power is produced. In addition, smoke produced by controlled burns in the Tahoe Basin conducted by the U.S. Forest Service and private residents would be reduced.

According to Placer’s 5th District Supervisor Bruce Kranz, a local biomass plant would do the same job but produce fewer pollutants.

“This building will be state of the art,” Kranz said by phone. “It is at least 97 percent cleaner than open burning.”

The most probable location for the plant would be at the Placer County Sheriff’s aging substation off Burton Creek Road, just east of Tahoe City.

“A long time ago, the plans were already in place; [the substation] would be torn down and completely rebuilt,” said Placer Senior Management Analyst Brett Storey.

Another option may be on the semi-industrialized National Avenue in Tahoe Vista, Kranz said.

The biomass facility is still only in the planning stages, Kranz said, and the proposed plant may not be completed until 2012. The total cost of the small waste-to-energy facility, expected to produce between 1 to 3 megawatts of electricity, could run $10 million.

A three megawatt plant could potentially power 2,000 homes, according to Jim Turner, operations manager for lumber giant Sierra Pacific Industries, which operates a biomass plant near Loyalton.

Constructing the plant close to the fuel source should also reduce fossil fuel emissions because of reduced transportation costs, Kranz said.

The future plant is to be funded by a partnership of private and local entities, including possible funding from Placer County, Sierra Pacific Resources, the parent company to Sierra Pacific Power Company, state government and others, Storey said.

In October, the effort to convert local forest waste into energy received a $1 million donation from SPI.

The federal funding came out of a spending bill supported by Rep. John Doolittle and U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, and signed into law by President Bush last week.

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