El Dorado County taking steps toward biomass cogeneration

Eric Jaramishian
Mountain Democrat

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — Supervisors at their Tuesday, April 12 board meeting approved the formation of an ad hoc committee with goals of formulating plans on locating and establishing such a facility.

The ad hoc committee would consist of former county Environmental Management Director Greg Stanton leading the effort, District 4 Supervisor/Chair Lori Parlin and District 2 Supervisor George Turnboo. Turnboo is a long-time advocate for implementing a biomass facility in the county.

“A biomass facility in our county would be a great thing,” Turnboo said. “Especially when you are talking about all the debris that is in our forests’ floors that we can take out and produce power and electricity, which would be awesome.”

Biomass cogeneration is the process of simultaneously producing electricity and heat using plant-based materials, including waste wood, wood residue and forest debris.

Stanton, who retired from the county in May 2021, was asked by Chief Administrative Officer Don Ashton to return the same year as an annuitant employee to assist with the research of the proposed facility. The biomass project was added to the county’s strategic plan update in 2021.

“We are at the point where it is time to have a serious conversation about site locations as well as the scope and size of the facility,” Ashton told supervisors. “We feel an ad hoc committee with a couple of (supervisors) to participate in those discussions would be beneficial.”

Since October 2021 Stanton has led a biomass facility working group, conducting research on smaller-scale facility opportunities.

“The challenge with a larger facility is that it takes much longer,” Stanton said. “It is not as straightforward between siting, permitting and the emissions …”

Stanton told the Board of Supervisors the working group is not gaining traction in its efforts.

“I think the board will have more success through an ad hoc committee and getting those serious discussions to be had,” Stanton explained, adding, he has plans to invite major stakeholders in biomass to future meetings to help the ad hoc committee formulate plans on an agreeable site for the county’s biomass facility.

“This will benefit everyone involved,” Stanton said.

Out of all the major stakeholders he said he and his biomass team have reached out to, including PG&E and Pioneer Energy, Sacramento-based electric utility company SMUD would be best to partner with. Biomass utilization is part of SMUD’s 2030 Zero Carbon Plan.

“They have a clock ticking and want to get something done,” Stanton added.

Ashton agreed that getting the two supervisors on board would be beneficial in the ad hoc committee’s biomass facility implementation efforts.

“Do I see the board leading this effort? Not with Greg here leading but I think at times it will be helpful to pull people together when we demonstrate with political support,” Ashton said.

Parlin, who noted she has worked with Stanton in introducing biomass stakeholders, expressed interest in helping the ad hoc committee in its efforts.

“The politics are starting to become important and I see the need for this now,” Parlin said. “Greg has done a great job but we need a little more ‘umph.’”

District 1 Supervisor John Hidahl asked if Stanton considered linking with a biomass site Pioneer Energy is pursuing in Placer County.

“The economies of scale say operating a larger facility is more economical from a standpoint of subsidies required to keep it operating,” Hidahl said.

Stanton elaborated that part of the cost for biomass is transportation of the materials.

“Hauling from Camino or from further up the (Highway) 50 corridor all the way to Placer County would not be economically viable,” Stanton added.

The county has a list of locations for consideration of a biomass cogeneration facility, including in Camino at the old sawmill off Carson Road, the site where the county piloted a biomass program in 2019, according to the county’s Communications and Outreach Director Carla Hass.

The Mountain Democrat asked Hass if other locations had been identified for a possible biomass facility but had not received a response as of press time.

The Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to create the ad hoc committee and for Parlin and Turnboo to sit in on the committee.

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