Placer County seeking new site for biomass project

By Lisa Gibson | August 02, 2011

The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency in California has taken the Kings Beach site for Placer County's proposed 2 megawatt biomass combined-heat-and-power plant off the table, but the county will push on, looking at new sites.

“We’re not giving up,” said Brett Storey, Placer County’s biomass program manager. The need for the plant is still there, he added. Forests are still too thick and land management debris is still burned in the open.

The TRPA deemed the Kings Beach site unworkable because of a noise ordinance in the Tahoe Basin, Storey said. The agency has jurisdiction over the basin and enforces a 60-decibel limit on the commercial site Placer County was proposing. That presents no issues whatsoever, but the neighboring area has a 50-decibel limit and the plant’s truck traffic would violate that by three decibels, Storey explained. It’s not the facility, he emphasized. “It’s the trucks. We’re talking about a couple decibels. But it’s a noise rule that TRPA is unwilling to give a waiver for.”

Fifty decibels is the noise level of conversation, a stream or a power line, Storey cited. “But they are the authority and we must abide by their rules and regulations.”

The new site is still in Placer County, but being outside the Tahoe Basin, is not subject to TRPA’s rules, which Storey said are a bit arbitrary and reflect the group’s opinions of what is best for the area, not any federal laws or regulations. Placer County, however, crafts its regulations based on U.S. EPA rules. The new site is located close to Truckee, Calif., which is just on the edge of neighboring Nevada County. It’s a former landfill site and currently is a transfer station where biomass is ground and sent to users, although Storey said the Placer County biomass plant will most likely grind its forest residue feedstock in the field.

The location change could cause a six- to 12-month delay in the 2013 project completion deadline, as the new site is not as well-equipped with necessary infrastructure, Storey said. “We had all the details worked out with Kings Beach,” he said. But on the plus side, size limitations at the old site restricted technology options that will now be open for consideration with the new location. “So I’ll do a quick technology check while I’m looking at infrastructure,” Storey said.

The plant is expected to provide a meaningful and effective solution to catastrophic wildfires in the region, and won Storey the District 3 County Employee of the Year distinction earlier this year.