TRUCKEE, Calif. - The proposed two-megawatt Cabin Creek Biomass Energy Facility aimed at reducing the risk of wildfire and improving air quality in the region is one step closer to reality.
The Placer County Planning Commission recently approved a conditional use permit and certified the final Environmental Impact Report prepared by the nonprofit Sequoia Foundation that found the facility will "likely" benefit Lake Tahoe community health.
Walter Levings, natural resource staff with Tahoe National Forest, said the agency has "long been in support of utilization" of biomass, plant matter that can be converted into an energy source.
"It's an alternative to open burning, which you can only perform so many days," Levings said. "Also, there is not as much air pollution (when using a biomass facility), which has positive health effects on local residents."
The U.S. Forest Service and Calfire perform prescribed fires and pile burns, which involve the controlled burning of collected materials by trained professionals under specific weather conditions to reduce the risk of wildfire.
According to Placer County, the biomass facility proposed at the Eastern Regional Landfill on Cabin Creek Road off Highway 89 would be supplied by woody biomass gathered within a 30-mile radius, and gasification technology would be used to convert the material into fuel, ultimately generating electricity.
"It's somewhat controversial (the facility), but it would certainly benefit our chipping program," said Dave Zaski, public information officer with the North Tahoe Fire Protection District.
He said the department has run out of places to bring residents' chipped branches, with the closure the Loyalton biomass plant in August 2010.
"We have to leave the chips with the residents, and we'd rather not have to do that," said Zaski, adding that the residential chipping program is an effort to create defensible space around people's homes.
In 2012, NTFPD received more than 1,800 chipping requests from residents within its 31-square-mile coverage area on the North and West shores, he said.
Despite that, Zaski said the district has taken a "neutral stance" on the proposed facility.
Paul Spencer, public safety and information officer with the Truckee Fire Protection District, shared a similar view, adding that the district's chipping program no longer exists since Aug. 31, 2012.
"It was funded through a grant (by Air Quality Control)," he said, a grant that since expired. "With the economic downturn, we don't have enough monies floating around to fund the program on our own."
Existing fire prevention programs within the district include: dooryard burning, the burning of vegetation material no bigger than 4 feet by 4 feet in residential yards on specific days; residential defensible space inspections, which NTFPD also performs; and the distribution of prevention literature.
"(The biomass) facility is going to help reduce fire danger," Spencer said, especially by using brush from the area.
The proposed biomass facility project includes the construction of an 11,000-square-foot building that would house power-generating and emissions control equipment and a 1-acre fuel storage area, according to Placer County.
The project now needs permits from the Placer County Air Pollution Control District to operate the proposed facility, according to the county's website.
- Matthew Renda of The Union newspaper in Grass Valley contributed to this report.