Biomass project earns Storey employee of the year title

By Lisa Gibson | April 07, 2011

Years of extensive work on a biomass combined-heat-and-power plant project have earned Placer County, Calif., Project Manager Brett Storey the District 3 County Employee of the Year title.

The 2-megawatt plant on the north end of Lake Tahoe will use forest residues and will heat schools, businesses and other structures in a 30-mile radius. And it won’t just be providing clean energy, but will also be an effective solution to the catastrophic wildfires the region has experienced in the past.

Storey was hired in 2006 to help develop a solution to that problem and came up with the biomass plant proposal within one year. “When you live in a forest, you’ve got to do thinning and you’ve got to do something with the biomass,” he said. “You can’t just leave it on the ground. You can’t light it off, because we have air pollution problems.” A large volume of thinning and forest management debris is already open burned in the county and many landowners didn’t know there could be other solutions, Storey said. “We’ve really tried to change the culture of burning in our area, and for the most part, we have.”

Still, Storey was surprised when he was named employee of the year, saying he works on a team of competent and capable problem solvers. “They’ve always told our team that we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing, but to single me out is a little surprising,” he said.

The title represents an appreciation of biomass as a solution to the area’s wildfire battles and Placer County’s willingness to move the project along, he said. “We have a very intelligent board of supervisors that looks at this as a real solution; in other words, not just building a facility but the whole complete (biomass-use) package.”

In fact, Storey is putting the finishing touches on a stewardship contract with the Forest Service, in addition to finalizing the full environmental analysis that was conducted despite the fact that it wasn’t required. “So now I’ve got my supply in place,” he said. “I’ll have my environmental work in place and then I’ll go through the public process.”

If all goes well, the facility could be built in 2012 and be operational in 2013, but the biomass industry today is fraught with legal actions and Placer County’s plant likely will be no exception. The detailed environmental analysis, however, should help with many concerns, Storey hopes.

In keeping with the theme of recognition for environmentally conscious endeavors, the Forest Resource Sustainability in Placer County team was recently given the U.S.EPA’s Clean Air Excellence Award in the Community Action category. Over the past four years, the project team, which includes Storey, has processed and transported 15,000 tons of forest management residues to biomass energy facilities in lieu of open burning. That has reduced greenhouse gas emissions by more than 6,000 tons, nitrogen oxide emissions by 23 tons, and carbon monoxide emissions by 900 tons. The biomass plant would further the team’s already impressive progress.