North Tahoe biomass project closer to becoming reality

LAKE TAHOE — For the North Lake Tahoe Fire Protection District, a regional biomass facility would provide a needed place to dispose of debris created through its residential curbside chipping program.

“Every year we struggle to find a viable location for those chips,” said Forest Schafer, forester for the Incline/Crystal Bay district.

Depending on the year, the chipping program can yield 50 to 70 dry tons of chips, he said.

“We would be happy to see an increased demand for that product,” Schafer said.

A biomass facility would also ensure chips produced by NLTFPD and others would go to “good use” and not into the landfill, should supply exceed demand, Schafer said.

The proposed two-megawatt Cabin Creek Biomass Energy Facility would take state and local agencies’ woody biomass — trees, shrubs and other plants that can come from fire hazard reduction projects — and convert it into energy, with a goal to reduce the threat of local catastrophic wildfires and improve air quality.

Last week, the Placer County Board of Supervisors approved several agreements needed to move the project forward.

One approval was for a biomass fuel sale and delivery agreement between Placer County and Tahoe Regional Power Company, which would supply the facility.

Two other approvals ensure income for the building designed to utilize gasification technology to convert woody biomass into energy — an energy sale agreement between the county and Liberty Utilities, and the terms of a preliminary bio-char purchase agreement between the county and Tahoe Regional Power Company.

Bio-char is the carbonized wood chips remaining after the gasification process.

“The action the board took ... further demonstrates Placer County’s commitment to green renewable energy and all the benefits that come out of that, including bio-char,” Supervisor Jennifer Montgomery, whose 5th District includes the project site, said in a statement.

In order to meet the power and bio-char agreements, the county will need contractors to perform biomass removal, grinding and hauling to the facility.

The contractors — expected to be approved in March 2015 — will work under county contract on several project areas with the US Forest Service and other state and local agencies that require biomass removal.

“Having the ability to haul some, if not all understory to a biomass plant and converting it to energy, would be a success for the area,” said Pete Bansen, chief of the Squaw Valley Fire Department.

As the developer, Tahoe Regional Power Company is negotiating with investors for funds to purchase equipment, build the approximately 11,000 square-foot, two-story building, and prepare for operations.

Construction is estimated at $12 million, with $1.5 million being funded through Department of Energy grants to the county, said Brett Storey, project manager.

Groundbreaking is anticipated next spring, with operations starting in early 2016.


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Tahoe Daily Tribune Updated May 1, 2014 05:35PM Published May 4, 2014 02:22PM Copyright 2014 Tahoe Daily Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.