North Lake Tahoe-based biomass plant deemed ‘a real possibility’
KINGS BEACH, Calif. – Jennifer Montgomery calls the prospect of a biomass plant on Lake Tahoe’s North Shore “a real possibility.”
Placer County is working in conjunction with federal agency representatives and NV Energy to identify a piece of property in Kings Beach capable of housing a biomass plant, said Montgomery, a Placer County supervisor and member of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency governing board.
A parcel owned by NV Energy on Speckled Avenue in Kings Beach has emerged as the most likely candidate to host the plant. The parcel is already zoned for energy production and currently houses diesel power generators.
The biomass plant will use pine needles, wood chips, logs, branches and trees collected as part of the basin-wide defensible space procedures to produce 1 to 3 megawatts of electricity and possibly provide heat to local public institutions, said Brett Storey, project manager for Placer County.
Creating a plant in the Lake Tahoe Basin is crucial because to be financially sustainable, a biomass plant must be close to the fuel it will consume.
Biomass plants in Loyalton, Calif., and Carson City have had financial troubles due to the trucking costs associated with hauling the plant matter from basin forests to the plant locations.
“Green technology is already expensive,” Storey said. “When you add trucking, it nearly doubles the cost.”
Despite the costs, Montgomery believes a biomass plant “creates partial solutions to a lot of the problems in the basin.”
“It provides an effective use of a lot of the leftover materials collected in the forest as part of defensible space projects,” said Montgomery, who also pointed to job creation as another benefit of the plant.
The plant would also reduce the amount of pile burning, Montgomery said. Pile burning is a controversial practice conducted by various basin-wide fire and forest management agencies. Essentially, workers collect flammable materials which could serve as fodder for a wildland fire and organize them into piles, which are then burnt in a controlled manner helping to prevent catastrophic fires.
Some residents complain that pile burning detrimentally impacts air quality while others point to the particulate matter which emits from the piles, makes its way into the lake and compromises Tahoe’s famed clarity.
Placer County will undertake a comprehensive Environmental Impact Review to gauge potential impacts resulting from the plant.
“Biomass plants do release pollution into the air,” Storey said. “But, the plant will be under the allowable amounts dictated by the Environmental Protection Agency.”
The county is also conducting financial feasibility studies.
“We need to think about all angles of the project,” Montgomery said. “We don’t want to come out with a project we can’t accomplish.”
A biomass plant in Carson City recently closed due costs of hauling materials and the fact the plant was not fitted to accept a variety of plant matter or wood of varying sizes, Storey said.
“The biomass plant in Kings Beach would accept pine needles, wood chips and branches of varying diameters,” Storey said.
Pending the outcome of the EIR and approval by assorted basin agencies, the project could break ground as early as 2012, Montgomery said.
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