Myths vs. Reality
Fiction vs. Truth
Myth: Woody biomass from fuels reduction activity (forest thinning) in the Tahoe Basin can be delivered directly to the Kings Beach biomass plant.
Reality: No. The forest material harvested from thinning (fuels reduction activity) is green with about 50% water content by weight, and is likely not to meet fuel specifications for combustion. Cabin Creek is currently the processing facility for North Lake Tahoe and all green forest material is collected there first. The processing includes drying, screening, grinding, and storing. Then the dry, fuel ready material is loaded and shipped for combustion to the Loyalton biomass plant for the last sixteen years.
Whether forest material sourced south of Hwy 50 on the east shore and from the South Lake Tahoe area would be shipped to Cabin Creek near Truckee is doubtful due to the distance of shipping green material.
Myth: The biomass plant proposed for Kings Beach will reduce the quantity of open burning of forest wastes.
Reality: No. Open burning (prescribed and piles) is the least expensive method of debris removal. But the obvious conflicts with people nearby has reduced the practice. According to the US Forest Service open burning will continue on slopes greater than 30% and for ecological purposes, which has comprised about 54% of the total treated acreage in the last ten years. In the next four years estimates are about 60% of acreage targeted for fuels treatment will be burned. These numbers are from a December 6, 2010 report “A Strategy to Utilize Biomass Generated from Forest Treatments for the Lake Tahoe Basin” prepared for the Tahoe Fire and Fuels Team.
To the extent that public funding can subsidize the harvesting of forest material and deliver it to the processing facility, open burning can be reduced. Without adequate subsidies fuels treatment activity cannot occur in the first place. Where the final product is burned has no impact on the high cost of its initial harvesting, because the cost of the fuel for combustion (paid at the power plant) is a fraction of the cost of removal from the forest and processing of forest material into feedstock.
Myth: The biomass plant proposed for Kings Beach will increase the reduction of forest fuels and thereby the danger of wildfires.
Reality: No. Since the cost of harvesting (thinning, gathering, and transport from the forest to Cabin Creek) and processing is several times the value of the fuel, there is no economic gain from the sale of feedstock that can significantly offset fuels reduction activity. It is only wishful thinking that payment for the fuel at the power plant can pay for the fuels reduction treatment activity.
Myth: Having a biomass energy facility inside the Tahoe Basin is preferable to burning biomass at a facility outside of the Tahoe Basin.
Reality: No. Since any biomass from fuels treatment must first go to Cabin Creek (outside the Basin) there is no justification for shipping the fuel back into the Basin for combustion. Lake Tahoe is designated an Outstanding National Resource Water (ONRW) by both California and Nevada. As a Tier 3 ONRW the standard is “no degradation.” Since it is first taken out of the Basin for processing, the federal standard can be met by continuing to burn it outside the Basin, as has occurred for 16 years.
Myth: Fuels reduction activity in the Tahoe Basin alone will generate enough woody biomass to supply the Kings Beach plant.
Reality: Questionable. Generating any biomass material in the Tahoe Basin from fuels reduction is a function of public subsidies. Without those dollars the production of woody biomass for combustion is limited. This is why Placer County has drawn a 30 mile radius around Kings Beach as the designated collection area. Much of the material will be generated outside of the Tahoe Basin, shipped to Cabin Creek for processing, and then shipped into the Tahoe Basin for combustion.
Myth: The biomass plant will not add pollutants to the air in the Tahoe Basin.
Reality: Wrong. The fact is there are many pollutants and impacts of the combustion process which do not need to be introduced into the Tahoe Basin. The reason the Basin was selected for construction is because its air is cleaner than elsewhere in Placer County. Consequently, while the logical place for a combustion plant is Cabin Creek, the permitting process could be slightly more difficult due to its air (like all of Placer County with the exception of the Tahoe Basin) already being somewhat polluted. There is no magical formula for burning woody biomass with no pollutants or smell. We believe, however, along with Placer County’s Air Pollution Control Officer, that while more cumbersome to arrange from a permitting standpoint, it can be done for Cabin Creek.
Myth: Tahoe property owners can feel comfortable that TRPA will protect the Basin against developments that will degrade the environment.
Reality: No. The TRPA is heavily influenced by the five local jurisdictions which must pay for many of the environmental imperatives. The annual budget of Placer County is nearly $800 million whereas TRPA’s budget is about $12 million. Much of TRPA’s funding comes from development fees of one kind or another. TRPA is collaborating with Placer County on pursuing a biomass plant in the Tahoe Basin, specifically in Kings Beach. TRPA agreed with Placer County to a waiver of the usual competitive bidding process in selecting their preferred contractor for the environmental documents.
Myth: Tahoe property owners can feel comfortable that the North Tahoe Sierra Club and/or the League to Save Lake Tahoe will take any and all action needed in every case when Tahoe is threatened.
Reality: No. The conservation community is challenging TRPA on an unprecedented number of fronts; e.g. the Shorezone Plan, Tahoe Vista Partners, Sierra Colina, Boulder Bay, Homewood Mountain Resort, the New Regional Plan, etc. If the Biomass project were the only project then the League and the Sierra Club would be able to devote the necessary resources to fully respond and protect the environment from degradation. That is simply not the case.
Myth: Placer County has partnerships with NV Energy, UC Davis, the EPA, the California Energy Commission, the Tahoe Conservancy, and CalFire as stated in the official project document “Notice of Preparation” or NOP for a Kings Beach Biomass Power Plant.
Reality: No. After extensive research, the North Tahoe Citizen Action Alliance received letters from these entities that there are no partnership agreements. There is only general conceptual support for the idea of utilizing biomass somewhere in Placer County at large. Placer County has apologized for “inadvertent” language errors in the NOP that could mislead the unwary into believing the listed government agencies are partners in the Kings Beach biomass plant. And, they have promised to amend their website that suggests support for a specific plant in Kings Beach.
Myth: The cost of transporting biomass is so high that “it would seem the closer the facility is to the point of generation, the more cost effective the program would be.” Therefore, the Kings Beach site is the most cost effective site for a power plant.
Reality: No. The “point of generation” is the actual site of harvesting (collection) of green, raw biomass material. Sometime people forget that raw biomass material cannot be burned in biomass incinerators until it is processed in to fuel grade biomass. That processing occurs at Cabin Creek for points of generation on the north and west shores of Lake Tahoe. Combusting the material at a proposed Kings Beach power plant requires the feedstock to be shipped from Cabin Creek back into the Tahoe Basin. Were the plant at Loyalton to be used, it is only 25 miles further than Kings Beach from Cabin Creek, is already built, and needs the fuel. That 25 mile difference costs about $5 per ton which is relatively insignificant. Bringing biomass material back into the Tahoe Basin to burn it does have significant damaging environmental consequences. Still, the most sensible place, from the perspective of transportation, is Cabin Creek because then it need not be transported anywhere.
Myth: The public can expect an objective and thorough Environmental Impact Report from Placer County and the TRPA as contracted to Ascent Environmental Inc. (Sidney Coatsworth, Project Manager).
Reality: No. The contract for Placer County’s Environmental Impact Report (EIR), under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), the Environmental Assessment (EA) under the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA), and TRPA’s Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) was given to Ascent Environmental whose principal is Sidney Coatsworth. She has prepared other EIR’s, such as the Shorezone Plan EIS certified by the TRPA, which was rejected / vacated by Federal Judge Karlton as containing serious flaws. To avoid the usual competitive bidding process Placer County and TRPA signed a waiver. Given the project description and the presentation in the Notice of Preparation, prepared by Ascent, we are not comfortable that the EIR will adequately discuss the existing biomass chain of supply, or a Cabin Creek Plant as a viable alternative. In addition, we believe that the study will use a false baseline which concludes that absent the Kings Beach facility all or most biomass fuel would have been openly burned.