Friends of Lake Tahoe

“The Voice of the Non-resident Tahoe Property Owner”

 

Executive Summary: 

Problems of and Confusion Surrounding the Proposed Biomass Power Plant

 

Greetings,

 

Placer County and the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA) are planning to build in the Tahoe Basin (North Shore – Kings Beach) an industrial-scale biomass combustion power plant.   If constructed, it will be sited just off Highway 267, less than a mile from the water, within 1000 feet of an elementary school, and in a high density population area.  It will operate 24/7, 365 days a year and burn forest waste generated roughly within a 30 mile radius of central North Shore.  

 

As a result of misinformation and disinformation, there is much confusion about this proposal.   This website is structured to clarify the nature of the problems with this project and the confusion surrounding it.   Friends of Lake Tahoe was created as a non-profit corporation to stop this environmentally dangerous and economically disastrous project.   And, we urgently need your help to do so!

 

Some background regarding current practices:    For years crews have been thinning the forests in the Basin to reduce forest fuels that can contribute to wildfires.  And, for the last 16 years, the collected forest waste (green woody biomass) has been trucked out of the Tahoe Basin to the biomass processing facility at Cabin Creek (3 miles south of Truckee along Highway 89).   There it is dried and processed into fuel grade material suitable for biomass burning.   (Raw forest waste cannot be burned in a plant prior to processing.)   Following that, the processed biomass material has been trucked to a biomass plant in Loyalton (Sierra County) owned by Sierra Pacific Industries just north of Truckee.   Any forest waste that cannot be hauled to Cabin Creek due, for example, to being located on steep slopes, is burned openly in piles a few times a year when meteorological conditions are appropriate.

 

This proposal will simply change the location of the burning from Loyalton, which is outside the Basin, to Kings Beach, which is inside the Basin.  It will simply reroute the trucks from Cabin Creek to Kings Beach instead of Loyalton.  That’s it!   Nothing else changes! 

 

Again, all other practices associated with forest fuel and wildfire reduction, as well as open burning will continue unchanged.   Contrary to commonly held misperceptions resulting from both misinformation and disinformation, having an industrial incinerator in Kings Beach will neither reduce open burning nor increase fuel reduction activities.  They are separate issues and unrelated to the location of a plant.  And, all forest waste will still go directly to Cabin Creek for processing first regardless of where it will be burned.

 

Do not be confused or deceived by suggestions or claims that having a biomass energy facility

 in Kings Beach will reduce forest fuels and open burning. 

It will not!

The proposed plant would produce 1-3 Megawatts of electricity, consuming 25 to 75 tons of biomass fuel per day, trucked in from Cabin Creek.  The heat equivalent combusted every day is 25 to 75 cords of firewood, or an annual consumption of 9,000 to 27,000 cords of pine.    

 

In terms of air quality degradation, the power plant would emit criteria pollutants including carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, ozone precursors (nitrogen oxide and volatile organic compounds), sulfur dioxide, and particulates of various sizes.  Due to air inversions and the topography of Tahoe’s Basin, air degradation is inevitable as pollutants do not readily disperse.  Similarly, there is no way to prevent visible haze.   According to Jim Turner, the Operations Manager of the Biomass Plant in Loyalton, “the first thing that people notice. . . is the smell.”  While few oppose biomass energy facilities conceptually because they produce green renewable energy, they should be banned from the Lake Tahoe Basin.  Under the federal Clean Water Act the Tahoe Basin is a Tier 3 Outstanding National Resource Water (ONRW) which means “no degradation” of its air and water quality should be allowed. 

 

The pollution will not simply build up on the North Shore of the Lake, from Incline to Tahoe City.  It will ultimately drift and drift.  All biomass power plants must be banned from the Basin!

 

Of particular concern to scientists are chemical and particulate byproducts of combustion that are capable of modulating or disrupting the function of the endocrine system – a network of glands that regulate hormones in the human body.  These chemicals, referred to as endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs), have the capability of interfering with natural hormones that are responsible for the regulation of the developmental processes, especially in children.   The proposed facility is within 1000 feet of an elementary school.

 

Moreover, in terms of real estate transactions, “Environmental hazards are noxious or annoying conditions which are man-made hazards and not natural hazards.  As such, the conditions are classified as either injurious to the health of humans or an interference with an individual’s sensitivities.  They have an adverse effect on a property’s value and desirability.  Thus, they are considered defects which, if known, must be disclosed as material facts since the hazards might affect a prospective buyer’s decision to purchase the property.”  Coupling this with the trucking of the biomass, the accompanying fumes, traffic, as well as noise, many have concluded that the proposed plant fits the category of an “environmental hazard” which could invalidate a sale if not disclosed.  And, there is no way to specifically forecast the impact of this fact on property values at large in the Basin.

 

The biomass project has been an economic disaster from its inception.  Start up funding originated from well intended congressional earmarks for the study of biomass utilization in Placer County.  But it soon became a bad idea when Placer County officials discovered that the easiest place in the County to obtain permits to locate such a biomass incinerator, due to its inherent pollution, was within the Tahoe Basin where the air is the cleanest.  Moreover, since TRPA plans to limit the air quality analysis by excluding EPA from the environmental study, approval will be expedited.  To compound the problem, the economic viability of facilities this size is dependent upon public subsidies.   And, since the earmarks only fund studies and start up costs, the source of the $8-10 million for construction costs has not been determined.   There currently also exists no agreement as to who will own or operate the facility. 

 

However, in spite of being counterintuitive, defying common sense, and scientifically irrational, it has been disturbingly and unfortunately moved forward with false claims and fallacious arguments that many conclude are designed to take advantage of a general ignorance on behalf of both local residents and particularly non-resident property owners regarding the issues involved. 

 

Exploiting fears of wildfires and ignorance of current practices regarding open burning and the removal of forest wastes for disposal outside the Basin, proponents suggest connections to wildfire and pollution reductions that don’t exist and won’t occur.  They point regularly, for example, to how biomass combustion burning is cleaner than open/pile burning – which it is!  The problem, however, is that there is, as previously mentioned, no connection between the two in that the former will not reduce the latter.  Open/pile burning will still occur at current levels. 

 

Additionally, in a fantastically bungled study, one examination of the issue is premised on the notion that raw green waste could be burned at a Kings Beach plant without first being processed into fuel grade material at Cabin Creek.  The irony is that even the official “Notice of Preparation” for the project issued jointly by both Placer County and the TRPA makes it clear that waste would need to be first processed at Cabin Creek before burning.  Friends of Lake Tahoe is currently investigating the circumstances surrounding the reasons behind and the nature and funding of this faulty study.

 

Sadly, as part of running a duplicitous campaign, both Placer County and TRPA have stated in official governmental documents to have supporters and partnerships  regarding  this project, from the Environmental Protection Agency to the University of California, that don’t exist.  Challenged as to the veracity of such claims, they have now recanted, citing “inadvertent” language errors in such documents while continuing their fictional narrative of claims. 

 

One must remember that, not unlike the now famous earmark funded “bridge to nowhere,” there are both profits for some and bureaucratic occupational benefits for others that can result from supporting wasteful and unnecessary governmentally sponsored projects.  

 

Placer County has fast tracked this project from its inception and TRPA, ostensibly the authorizing agency, has acquiesced to the plan.  In the minds of many, TRPA’s authority has eroded over the years, giving counties and special interest greater influence.   It is unfortunate, but much of TRPA’s funding comes from development of one kind or another.  

 

Moreover, it is expected by most who are intimately aware of the project that the Environmental Impact Study for the facility that is under way, the contract for which was awarded without competitive bidding, will be flawed.  It will have errors of both fact and omission.  Nevertheless, it is also believed that, while flawed and incomplete, it will be pushed forcefully by Placer County and approved by TRPA unless action occurs to halt it.  This is not new and has happened before.

 

Fortunately, Friends of Lake Tahoe has been created specifically to fight the approval of the Biomass Facility Project.  Organized by both local and non-resident property owners to combat this project, Friends of Lake Tahoe is founded on the understanding that the most politically potent entity in the Tahoe Basin that is also the most impacted by TRPA decisions, as well as being the primary financier of government at Tahoe, is the non-resident property owner!

 

If you want to stop the dangerous biomass project, we strongly urge you to learn more by visiting the other aspects of the website.  The “Introduction” tab explains the structure of the site. 

 

Please help us to help you by contributing generously to our cause.  Placer and TRPA have budgeted a great deal of public money for public relations efforts to “sell” this project to the public.   We need to level the playing field and can only do so with your financial support.

 

We thank you for your assistance

and look forward to your participation in this effort!