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Placer Sentinel

Placer County Staff Advances Tahoe Biomass Project, Seeking Public-Private Partnership

Feb 26, 2024 11:28AM ● By County of Placer News Release

AUBURN, CA (MPG) - The Placer County Board of Supervisors on Feb. 20 authorized county staff to prepare and release a request for proposals for the proposed Cabin Creek biomass facility project in North Lake Tahoe.

The board’s approval of the RFP process came after receiving a project update from county staff on the feasibility of the construction and operation of a biomass facility.

The proposed facility site is the Eastern Regional Landfill located in Placer County.  

“The request for proposals marks a significant step forward in our efforts to address environmental challenges while promoting sustainable solutions in our community,” said Placer County District 5 Supervisor Cindy Gustafson. “I look forward to the continued collaboration with stakeholders as we move towards realizing the potential of this vital initiative for our county.”

The facility would not only assist with mitigating wildfire risks but also create renewable energy or other renewable biomass fuels by using thermochemical conversion technologies. Biomass facilities produce energy using wood scraps left over from forestry operations or residential defensible space clearing, helping remove a hazardous source of fuel for wildfires. They also generate heat and a byproduct called biochar that could be used as fertilizer and in water filtration processes. 

Recent catastrophic wildfires, including the River and Mosquito fires, have highlighted the need for local biomass facilities to take the surplus of biomass material resulting from forest fire cleanup, forest management projects and residential defensible space efforts. However, the lack of local facilities has caused this material to be shipped long distances to biomass facilities already approaching capacity limits, driving down its value and burdening residents with increased disposal costs. 

In response, Placer County has for years pursued plans for a biomass facility to effectively manage and utilize excess woody biomass material in an environmentally sustainable manner.

Initially approved by the board in 2013, the Cabin Creek project encountered a temporary setback as uncertainties arose regarding its long-term economic viability. However, on March 8, 2022, the board took significant strides by greenlighting an evaluation of current market conditions pertinent to the proposed facility. Additionally, the board authorized exploration into potential business partnerships and grant opportunities to bolster the project's prospects.

Currently, agencies employ various tactics to reduce wood scraps left on the ground during routine healthy forest maintenance, including open pile burning.

Open pile burning is necessary to reduce fuel loads, especially in the absence of a regional biomass facility, but can create temporary smoky conditions, and also releases carbon into the atmosphere. 

Advanced technologies used in modern biomass facilities on the other hand can trap carbon and other pollutants, helping agencies reduce even more fuel loads, which decreases the risk of wildfire, reduces air pollutants compared to open pile burning and is better for the environment.

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