Our View: Time to make biomass happen | SierraSun.com

Our View: Time to make biomass happen

If you live on the North Shore of Tahoe and get your electricity from Sierra Pacific Power, as most area residents do, there’s about a 50 percent chance your lights turn on thanks to coal.

When the Truckee Donner Public Utility District tried to sign a 50-year, coal-based electricity contract late last year, the community was up in arms. “Give us clean, green power” was the clarion call. The contract was not approved, yet the PUD’s current power supply is coal-fired.

Meanwhile, the Tahoe-Truckee region is filled with forests cluttered with an ever-increasing undergrowth of brush and small trees, making the smallest spark a candidate for catastrophic wildfire.

That makes the notion of biomass co-generation ” taking the leftovers from forest thinning and burning it to produce power ” so compelling. We’d even go as far as saying it’s a no-brainer: Thin our forests to make them more fire safe and then use the biomass to produce electricity that could help wean us off coal power.

The idea looks good on paper ” there are some 23,000 acres in the Tahoe Basin alone that can be reached with thinning machinery ” but we’re a long way from seeing a co-gen plant like the one that’s been operating in Loyalton for nearly 20 years.

Yes, Congress, Placer County, the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, the U.S. Forest Service and even the Truckee Donner PUD have, at different points, dedicated time and money to the biomass question. But as one official said in David Bunker’s Sierra Sun report on co-generation in Tahoe (page 24), “a lot of things would have to go right” in order to see a facility built by 2010.

It’s clear our region’s residents want healthy, fire-safe forests as well as electricity that’s not generated by coal. Clearly it’s time for a concerted co-generation effort.

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