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Another View: Biomass power plant in the Lake Tahoe Basin?

Another View
By: David McClure, vice president of the North Tahoe Citizen Action Alliance
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The May 12 Journal publication of a Placer County Board of Supervisor’s guest column written by supervisors Jennifer Montgomery and Jim Holmes about the proposed biomass power plant in the Lake Tahoe Basin is cleverly crafted to mislead readers. The column reads, it’s the “same” environmental review process as with any project, and it is not unreasonable to ask that “the public exercise patience.” There are a few facts readers should know that may explain why Placer County decided to publish this column. The heat is on the BOS as evidenced by a grassroots meeting on May 12 drawing over 100 citizens who share utter disbelief that a utility-scale biomass power plant in the Lake Tahoe Basin is the “proposed project.” According to the Notice of Preparation (NOP), the first official notice on a project, the project title is “Lake Tahoe Basin Biomass Energy Facility” with Kings Beach the preferred location over Burton Creek (near Tahoe City). The following three basic facts about Placer County’s work on this project will help readers understand the local uproar that is growing every day. First, is a logistics misunderstanding. Forest material from fuels reduction activity is transported to Cabin Creek (Eastern Regional Landfill near Truckee) for processing. Cabin Creek is located outside the Tahoe Basin. The NOP states, “Processed biomass material would be transported by truck from Cabin Creek to the site in Kings Beach.” The raw forest material is already outside the Tahoe Basin so it can be dried, screened, stored, and sold as biofuel. Why would Placer County even consider transporting it again back in to the Tahoe Basin just to burn it? Second, is a fuel supply problem. According to the Fuel Procurement Study the fuel collection area is a 30 mile radius around Kings Beach, and includes urban waste from Reno and Carson City. There is not enough fuel to be practically supplied from the north and west shores of the Tahoe Basin. Why would Placer County even consider sourcing fuel outside the Tahoe Basin and transport into the Basin just to burn it? Third, is the air quality analysis error. According to the NOP the air quality analysis “will compare emissions from uncontrolled open burning of biomass with controlled emissions related to the power generating facility…” Placer County plans to use the emissions from open burning as the baseline to prove that controlled combustion (in the Tahoe Basin) is cleaner than open burning. Why would Placer County choose a flawed baseline (not ambient conditions) if not to “prove” that the air will be cleaner with the Biomass plant in the Tahoe Basin? Placer County has hired Ascent Environmental to draft the EIR (for $290,000) and TSS Consultants to do most of the technical studies that are designed to produce “substantial evidence in the record” that combustion in the Tahoe Basin is justified. The county’s effort to prove their preference is alarming, and to suggest the public “relax and exercise patience” is disingenuous. The public’s distrust of the Board of Supervisors is growing as their words increasingly fail to correspond with their actions. David McClure is vice president of the North Tahoe Citizen Action Alliance.