Map of North Lake Tahoe showing the proposed sites for the Biomass Plant in Kings Beach and Tahoe City.
Power to the People!
–by John Parker
A new Biomass Power Plant in the Lake Tahoe Basin: Signs of the coming apocalypse? Or the greenest thing to come to Tahoe since the Jerry Garcia Band played High Camp? What do you think?
Someone asked what I thought of this project about a week ago and to be perfectly honest, I didn’t know much about the plans at all. Plans that have been on the books in Auburn and with the TRPA for almost a year now but I hadn’t heard people talking about it until recently. Placer County, TRPA, and NV energy have their sights set on a location in Kings beach for the development of a new biomass power plant.
Check out how close to the beach this thing would be.
So, what’s a biomass power plant? It’s a really big furnace that burns tons of scrap wooded materials (literally like 25-75 tons a day for this 1-3 megawatt reactor) ranging from construction or lumber yard waste to debris gathered during forest thinning wildfire mitigation projects. The furnace heats a boiler that makes steam that spins a turbine that generates electricity and waste heat which is used to heat and power lots of things that need to be heated and powered. What’s good about biomass power plants? They burn renewable waste material while scrubbing the emissions for NOX, CO– and other harmful byproducts of combustion, and they generate electricity.
Why would you want to build a smoke belching 1-3 megawatt biomass power plant inside the Tahoe Basin? About eight hundred feet from the Kings Beach Elementary school? Beats the hell out of me.
But, if you take a look at the Notice of Preparation released by Placer County and the TRPA back in July 2010 you’ll find some suggestions. The NOP touts the facility as a renewable energy resource that would provide electricity, jobs, and improve the overall air quality in the basin by reducing open burning of wooded materials that are a byproduct of forest thinning projects. When I first read about this it all sounded pretty good, but since then I’ve come across a fair bit of information that seriously questions some if not all of the claims made about the benefits of this power plant in the proposed location.
First of all, even if the facility could improve the overall air quality of the basin it would still be producing a 24/7 point source emission smack dab in the middle of a North Tahoe residential community. Secondly, as far as I can tell, any open burning of piles in the basin that result from forest thinning projects occur because the debris is collected in areas that are either too remote or too steep to haul it out, so it is burned on site. Furthermore, all of the debris that is hauled out is already trucked to Cabin Creek, the old dump off of 89 in between Squaw and Truckee, where it is chipped and dried, then trucked to an existing biomass power plant in Loyalton (which doesn’t currently operate at full capacity from what I’ve read). Some people opposed to a plant at the Kings Beach site (including “The Friends of Lake Tahoe”, a group dedicated to halting the development of the plant) have been supporting the alternative development of a biomass power plant at Cabin Creek, the location of the biomass fuels processing facility. This seems to make sense to me. Cabin Creek is outside of the basin, it’s not very close to any large residential developments, and it would save on transportation costs because the chipped and dried biomass fuels would not have to be shipped out to Loyalton or back into the Tahoe Basin at Kings beach.
Anyway, I’m no expert and there is a lot more to this story. If you want to learn more I recommend you check out these sources.