Do You Want to See a Power Plant Built on the Shores of North Lake Tahoe? | Update | TRPA Deems KB Site "Unworkable" | Placer County Continues to Weigh Options

Do You Want to See a Power Plant Built on the Shores of North Lake Tahoe? | Update | TRPA Deems KB Site "Unworkable" | Placer County Continues to Weigh Options

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Do You Want to See a Power Plant Built on the Shores of North Lake Tahoe? | Update | TRPA Deems KB Site "Unworkable" | Placer County Continues to Weigh Options

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A couple of weeks ago many Tahoe residents were likely celebrating the aparent victory over the proposed biomass power plant in Kings Beach, but it is important to note that nothing has been finalized by Placer County.

Here is the scoop on the current status of the project.

On July 18th TRPA Executive Director Joanne Marchetta recommended to county officials that Kings Beach be removed from further consideration in the Environmental Impact Report/Statement (EIR/EIS) as a potential site for the development of a biomass power plant. Following this notification from TRPA, at a Placer County Board of Supervisors Tahoe area meeting on July 26th District 5 Supervisor Jennifer Montgomery made two motions to remove the Kings beach site from further evaluation under the EIR/EIS, but no other district supervisor would second the motion.

Map of Placer County Districts

There were statements made by the board to the effect that Montgomery’s motions were presented as “suggestions” and not as actionable motions. There were also comments made by the board regarding the amount of money that the county had already invested in the evaluation of the Kings Beach location. Either way, county supervisors were not yet willing to take action on the issue despite TRPA’s recommendation. A number of engaged Tahoe citizens remain concerned that the Kings Beach location is still under consideration by Placer County as a potential site for the development of a biomass power plant.

biomass power plant north lake tahoe, ca
Proposed Kings Beach Location

Earlier this summer Unofficial Networks reported on an issue of growing concern in the Lake Tahoe Basin; a joint proposal by Placer County and TRPA to construct a 1-3 megawatt biomass power plant located within the Tahoe Basin at a site in Kings Beach.

For a summary of the proposed project check out the original article at: (http://unofficialnetworks.com/2011/06/02/power-plant-shores-north-lake-tahoe/)

Back in July 2010 Placer County and TRPA submitted a notice of preparation (NOP) to interested agencies and to affected property owners in Kings Beach. However, the proposal was not broadly advertised to the greater Tahoe community until a number of concerned citizens organized in opposition to the development of a biomass power plant within the Lake Tahoe Basin.  Thanks to the hard work and information provided by groups like The Friends of Lake Tahoe (http://www.friendsoflaketahoe.org/), and the NTCAA (North Tahoe Citizen Action Alliance, http://www.ntcaa.org/) this issue reached the forefront of public awareness resulting in strong citizen opposition and persistent action to remove the Kings Beach site from consideration for a biomass burning facility in eastern Placer County.

north lake tahoe biomass plant location
Map of Proposed sites, Cabin Creek and Kings Beach

The movement against the proposed biomass powerplant in Kings Beach reached a tipping point a couple of weeks ago when TRPA changed its position on the issue.  On July 18th at a Placer County/TRPA meeting, TRPA Executive Director Joanne Marchetta notified Placer County Officials of TRPA staff’s determination that “the [Kings Beach] site is unworkable and recommended to [county officials] that the Kings Beach project site be removed from consideration as an alternative included in the detailed EIR/EIS for the proposed project.”  (TRPA Executive Director’s Monthly Report, July 2011, pg. 143)

http://www.trpa.org/documents/packets/gb_packets/2011_gb_packets/July_2011_GB_Packet.pdf

The following reasons were cited for TRPA’s determination:

  • Wide-ranging community opposition to this particular location;
  • Information learned in consultation with the EIS contractor Ascent about potential noise impacts, which could not be mitigated;
  • The long-term daily increases in truck traffic necessary to support the on-going operation of the facility and the long-term effects of such traffic on the adjacent neighborhood residents and the surrounding residential community; and
  • The consequent potential incompatibility of the use with the surroundings

Following this recommendation by TRPA, as stated earlier, Placer Country District 5 Supervisor Jennifer Montgomery made two motions at the July 26th Tahoe area meeting of the Placer County Board of Supervisors to have the Kings Beach site removed from evaluation as a potential development site in the EIR/EIS being prepared by Ascent Environmental.  The Placer County Board of Supervisors however did not second Montgomery’s motion and therefore no action was taken by the county on the matter.

There is something to be said for procedural protocol in governance and I wouldn’t suggest that public officials should make major decisions before evaluating issues thoroughly, but the long and the short of it here is that the Kings Beach site is still on the table in the eyes of the county.  The Placer County Board of Supervisors may defer action until after the EIR/EIS has been completed despite public opposition and the recommendations presented by TRPA.  Meanwhile, the county will continue to spend money on the evaluation of the Kings Beach site for the duration of the environmental review process.

What’s your take on this?  Should Placer County complete an EIR/EIS for the Kings Beach site even though the project won’t likely proceed without TRPA’s approval?

Some people have supported the Cabin Creek site for development as an alternative to the Kings Beach location because of it’s relative remoteness and because green debris generated by forest thinning is already shipped to Cabin Creek to be converted to “bone dry” biomass fuel.  However, Cabin Creek does not already have the necessary infrastructure to transmit power to available markets.

Others would raise questions about the economic feasibility of a biomass power plant to operate anywhere in eastern Placer County. Similar biomass facilities in Loyalton and Carson City have experienced limitations in their operational capacity due to insufficient supplies of biomass fuel and difficulty negotiating energy prices with electrical utility companies. The NTCAA reviewed official records of all open burning in the Placer County region of the Tahoe Basin from 2005 through 2010 and reported that an average of 1585 green tons of forest debris were burned openly each year. 1585 green tons would be converted into about 790 “bone dry” tons to be burned at a biomass power plant.  A 1-3 megawatt plant would likely burn 25-75 tons of bone dry fuel per day.  At 75 tons a day the 790 bone dry tons of fuel would allow the plant to operate for about 10.5 days.  Less than two weeks a year.  If the numbers reported by the NTCAA are correct and the plant is supposed to operate 24/7/365, where is the rest of the fuel going to come from?  How could importing fuels to burn possibly improve regional air quality as the NOP proposes?

What do you think? It might sound like a good option when compared to the Kings Beach site, but is Cabin Creek really a good location for a biomass power plant when evaluated independently?

In the wake of the 2007 Angora Wildfire in South Lake Tahoe, The Placer County Board of Supervisors adopted “The Strategic Plan for the Wildfire Protection and Biomass Utilization.”  It’s goals were to:

  • Reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires in Placer County;
  • Protect Placer County citizens and visitors from the consequences of catastrophic wildfire;
  • Find one or more beneficial uses for excess biomass in Placer County; and
  • Improve air quality in Placer County

At the July 26th Placer County Board of Supervisors Tahoe area meeting, Board Chairman Robert Weygandt stated that “Placer County still supports the underlying policy and the goals of the Strategic Plan approved in 2007” and “work leading to this point indicates that a small biomass facility in eastern Placer County may be economically sustainable with increasingly efficient technologies.  The environmental review process, which is not complete, is working as designed and identifying environmental or other issue that may prevent a project going forward is an integral part of the process.  Placer County is dedicated to a clear and above-board process and is committed to a fair and full analysis.” (source: Placer County News, July 28, 2011)http://www.placer.ca.gov/News/2011/July/Biomass.aspx

So, how about it? Does it look like the environmental review process is “working as designed”? Or is the county just buying time in the face of public opposition?

 

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