My Turn: Small-scale biomass is right for our community |

My Turn: Small-scale biomass is right for our community

Steve Frisch
Special to the Sun

TRUCKEE, Calif. and#8212; The Sierra Business Council (SBC) is pleased to announce our whole-hearted support for the proposed Cabin Creek Biomass Gasification Power Plant to be located at the Eastern Regional Landfill in Placer County.

SBC supports the proposed Cabin Creek biomass facility for several reasons, but perhaps the most important is that the project directly addresses the most serious threat facing our forests in the Sierra Nevada, and in the Tahoe Basin; the threat of catastrophic uncontrolled wildfire.

More than a century of fire suppression in the region has resulted in overcrowded, vegetation-choked forests. Scientists generally agree that Sierra forests are much more dense and fire prone than they were before European settlement. Scientists, most environmentalists, public officials and residents also agree; unaddressed, this problem could result in significant loss of forest habitat, declining water quality, loss of property, and significant risk to life.

Under the current management regime in the Tahoe Basin the woody debris from thinning of the understory (or brush and small diameter trees) is gathered, piled, dried for about 18 months and then burned openly in our forests. The smoke that results in the Basin is detrimental to health, impacts visibility and tourism, results in loss of Lake clarity due to particulate fallout, and is just generally unpleasant.

The Cabin Creek biomass facility will use woody debris from US Forest Service and other agenciesand#8217; forest management practices gathered within a 30-mile radius and burn that debris under new controlled conditions, while generating approximately two Megawatts of renewable energy (enough to power 2,000 homes for a year.) These forest management practices are designed to thin the forestand#8217;s understory as part of a multi-year integrated plan to restore our forests to health and reduce our regionand#8217;s risk of wildfire.

Emissions from the Cabin Creek facility will be considerably less polluting than the current practice of open burning. By controlling the burning of biomass through the gasification process, where woody debris is superheated and turned into a gas, and that gas is then burned to run a turbine, the total emissions from the plant will be about 3,809 metric tons per year. By comparison, the same amount of electricity generated by coal combustion would produce about 32,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions, in addition to sulphur, nitrogen, and other gases detrimental to health and the environment. By controlling combustion conditions, the new biomass facility will also provide significant reductions in particulate matter pollution; these are the tiny particles called PM 10 and PM 2.5 that lodge in your lungs.

Finally, by attracting private investment capital to build and operate the facility not only do we directly address our need to increase renewable energy, but we do it without on-going taxpayer subsidies and grants and#8212; while creating local jobs both at the facility and in the field doing forest thinning and habitat restoration projects and#8212; a true win-win-win solution for our region.

It is precisely these types of innovative, technologically savvy, and ultimately privately funded projects that model a new style of economic development in the Sierra Nevada and the Tahoe Basin; a style of economic development that improves the environment, solves a serious social problem, and makes money at the same time. Sierra Business Council applauds the leadership at Placer County, the United States Forest Service, our bi-partisan legislative delegation, and all of the community partners and citizens who helped make this project possible by encouraging a data driven, participatory, and democratic planning process.

For all these reasons, Sierra Business Council supports the proposed Cabin Creek Biomass Gasification Power Plant.

Steve Frisch is president of the Truckee-based Sierra Business Council.

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