Our View: Enegry’s future and foresight | SierraSun.com

Our View: Enegry’s future and foresight

It’s been called a “lemon” by the general manager of the Truckee Donner Public Utility District, and probably worse by those who had to keep it running, but the experimental biomass energy project that will be decommissioned in a few weeks is exactly that ” experimental.

It isn’t a failure or a waste of money. It was an educational tool, albeit an expensive one.

But developing knowledge doesn’t always come cheap.

In the pre- and post-coal contract debate, the Truckee Donner PUD was roundly criticized for not being more progressive in its efforts to go green. We’re sure there are many people in the community who would, and could, argue that point. But the fact that the district went out of its way more than four years ago to bring the small-scale, 15 Kilowatt biomass generation plant to Truckee suggests otherwise.

The $540,000 funding for the biomass project came in the form of grants from the California Energy Commission, $500,000; the U.S. Forest Service, $30,000 and $10,000 from the Truckee Donner Recreation and Park District.

It didn’t cost PUD ratepayers in the district anything other than equipment. Granted, the recreation and park district also committed personnel hours to the project. However, it will ultimately come out ahead by getting the large metal building that housed the biomass unit. And when the thing was running, it did produce heat for the district’s office.

In the meantime, the information gleaned from the project will help the technology advance. With nearby forests full of small trees that need to be thinned, a full-scale, future biomass plant could help Truckee start to get away from coal-fired electricity using a resource that now just gets burned into the atmosphere. Lessons learned could even help future decisions in the Tahoe Basin in regard to a local biomass operation.

All this will take years ” perhaps a decade or more ” to fully play out. But it takes foresight and the willingness of local decision-makers to lay out funds now, with no guarantee of success, to be ready for the future.