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Wildfire Protection and Biomass Utilization Program

The Placer County Wildfire Protection and Biomass Utilization Program was established in 2006 to help protect residents, communities, forests and important forest resources from the threat of wildfire and to efficiently manage and use biomass that is a large component of that threat. Background on the history of the Program, and the magnitude of the issues related to forestry and wildfire in Placer County, as well as actions planned to address them, are found in the Strategic Plan for the Placer County Wildfire Protection and Biomass Utilization Program. The Strategic Plan was first prepared in 2007 to provide overall guidance for the Placer County Wildfire Protection and Biomass Utilization Program. The Strategic Plan was updated in 2013 to document the accomplishments of the program and to provide guidance for subsequent years, recognizing that changes in conditions have occurred since completion of the 2007 Plan. The Plan includes an overall vision for Placer County Wildfire Protection and Biomass Utilization and goals, objectives and strategies to achieve that vision.

Biomass Utilization Program

The Placer County Biomass Utilization Program is an element of the County’s overall Wildfire Protection and Biomass Utilization Program. Guidance for both Wildfire Protection and Biomass Utilization is provided by the County’s Strategic Plan. Details of the Wildfire Protection Program can also be found in the Strategic Plan.+more

Many wildfire protection activities and projects involve the cutting of trees and brush to reduce wildfire hazard. Trees large enough to have commercial value as lumber are transported to mills for processing. But brush, small trees, and the limbs and tops of larger trees are excess biomass that has most often been disposed of by open burning to complete the necessary reduction of fire hazard. The County has recognized that a better option is to utilize this excess biomass for generation of energy. Not only is there a benefit from offsetting fossil fuel energy generation, but also a substantial reduction of air pollution emissions and increased support for jobs associated with the biomass utilization. Utilization of biomass for energy also has a potential to help support the economic sustainability of forest management and hazard reduction projects designed to reduce the negative effects of wildfires. In order to increase emphasis on biomass utilization, Placer County hired a Biomass Manager in 2006 and that began development of projects described below.

Cabin Creek Biomass Energy Facility

Early on in implementation of the Biomass Utilization Program, it was recognized that having a market for woody biomass would provide economic assistance and incentive for completing the kinds of forest management and fuels reduction projects that are needed to reduce the threat and impacts of high intensity wildfire. Further, it was recognized that biomass energy facilities represent a viable and proven option for providing such a market for biomass. That led to the planning for a biomass energy facility that would create a market for woody biomass being created in the Lake Tahoe Basin. Planning is now complete and the County is developing an approach to finance and install a new small-scale combined heat and power facility at the "Cabin Creek" site on land owned by Placer County near the Town of Truckee in eastern Placer County. This facility will utilize technology that is powered entirely by woody biomass - a green renewable fuel generated as a byproduct of forest management and hazardous forest fuels reduction activities—to generate electricity 24/7 for distribution in eastern Placer County. It is hoped the facility will be operational in the 2014/15 timeframe. The facility will also provide an opportunity to demonstrate the use of excess heat in the facility building and to melt snow on the roof, road, and sidewalks of the site.

Grant Funding for Placer County Biomass Energy Facility Feasibility Assessment

A grant from the USFS and High Sierra Resource Conservation and Development Council funded an initial Feasibility Assessment to evaluate existing technologies that produce electrical energy and heat from biomass materials with air pollutant emissions low enough to be able to be permitted and other attributes that would allow the technology to be utilized in eastern Placer County. The assessment considered the possibility of combined heat and electrical power (CHP) generating technology, utilizing locally available fuels (i.e. woody biomass fuels easily accessible and obtainable with no new access road construction in the forest) that would otherwise be wasted resources. Biomass technologies, both direct combustion and gasification systems were evaluated, with the goal of being environmentally compatible and allowable in eastern Placer County. Results were very positive and led to detailed studies for a biomass energy facility.

Detailed Feasibility Planning and Environmental Assessment

Three primary Congressional appropriations via the Department of Energy were received by Placer County to complete the feasibility and environmental assessment work associated with developing a biomass energy facility at Cabin Creek.

    Biomass Utilization Pilot Project Phase I Grant - $492,000 Congressionally Directed Grant (Congressman John Doolittle) via the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) award No. DE-FG36-08GO88026 “to facilitate a comprehensive project that integrates all facets of feasibility for the successful deployment of a woody biomass to energy project located in eastern Placer County.” Such a facility is critical to serving the hazardous forest fuels reduction programs in this region in future years. In order to accomplish this, a series of analytical and investigatory studies were undertaken to provide a private partner with due diligence grade information that can be used to assess the feasibility of planning, constructing and operating a small (1 to 3 megawatts) biomass energy facility. All funds were expended on research and analysis and have been documented in multiple reports.

    Biomass Utilization Pilot Project Phase II Grant - $1,427,250 Congressionally Directed Grant (Senator Diane Feinstein) via DOE award No. DE-FG36-08GO88026 to begin the environmental and land use feasibility studies associated with a biomass to energy facility in eastern Placer County. Under this grant Placer County was to complete a number of actions: 1) prepare environmental studies pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act, the National Environmental Protection Act, 2) obtain New Source Review Permitting from the PCAPCD, 3) prepare the necessary land use studies to support the receipt of entitlements from Placer County. These agencies, collectively, govern the proposed site, facility, emissions, and eventual operations. This grant has produced some substantial results that can be viewed in multiple reports on the County’s Biomass Web page. Progress will continue with these funds through 2015 and the completion of the Cabin Creek biomass to energy facility.

    Biomass Utilization Project Phase III Grant - $1,000,000 Congressionally Directed Grant (Senator Diane Feinstein) via DOE award No. DE-FG36-08GO88026 to continue work on the Cabin Creek biomass to energy facility. The grant funds were used to develop final analysis, design, and construction of the proposed Biomass Energy Facility at Cabin Creek. These funds will be used to assist in the development of the facility and are projected to be utilized during 2014 and 2015 to complete the project.

Reports

Biomass Fuel Procurement Plan for the Lake Tahoe Basin Biomass Energy Generation Facility - This report assessed the long-term sustainable availability of biomass that could supply a biomass energy facility.

Logistics Study of a Biomass Facility for the Lake Tahoe Region - This report was undertaken to define the logistics requirements for supporting a biomass energy facility in the Lake Tahoe Region. The objective of the study was to determine the feasibility of harvesting, processing, processing and storage of biomass material necessary to operate the energy facility.

Analysis of Public Health Risks Associated with Operation of a Biomass Power Plant - This report analyzed public health risks associated with operation of a biomass to energy facility. The primary objective was to quantify public health risks from exposure to any toxic air pollutants that might be released during facility operation and from ancillary equipment such as trucks, loaders and other equipment located at at the facility or at projects that produced the biomass to be used at the facility.

Health Impact Assessment - The Health Impact Assessment (HIA), performed by the Sequoia Foundation in collaboration with the Placer County Departments of Planning and Health and Human Services with technical support from the California Department of Public Health was a year-long process to assess the potential health effects related to the proposed biomass energy facility.

Environmental Impact Report/Environmental Assessment - Federal funds were used to complete the documentation of the environmental effects of constructing a biomass energy facility at Cabin Creek; therefore, an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) was needed to satisfy California Environmental Quality Act requirements and an Environmental Assessment was needed to satisfy National Environmental Policy Act requirements.

Final EIR:

Environmental Assessment—NEPA Document

Air/Water Emissions and Carbon Credits/Emissions Offsets Report - This report examined potential air/water emissions and carbon credits/emission offsets associated with a 1 to 3 megawatt woody biomass fueled bio-energy facility in the Lake Tahoe Region.

Assessment of Small-Scale Biomass Combined Heat and Power Technologies for Deployment in the Lake Tahoe Basin - This report was conducted to evaluate existing biomass energy technologies that produce electrical power and heat from biomass materials with air emissions low enough to be permitted. The report evaluated both direct combustion and gasification systems. (REPORT here)

Architect’s Depiction of Cabin Creek Facility - (INSERT Cabin Creek architect drawing)

Lake Tahoe Region Biomass Energy Facility Technology Integration and Preliminary Design Project - This report was the result of an USFS Woody Biomass $150,000 grant which provides a preliminary site and building design integrating the chose technology, used to serve as the project footprint to allow for environmental and agency permitting approvals to move forward. An intermediate design and integration plan which support preliminary cost estimates and will serve to allow stakeholders an opportunity to perform a "constructability" review. All details and integration issues can be used to complete a final design phase to bring the project to the bid and construction stage.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is woody biomass and where does it come from?

A: Woody biomass is composed of trees including wood from the bole (trunk) of the tree, limbs, tops, roots and even the foliage. Woody biomass can include shrubs and other woody plants. The principal sources of woody biomass for energy production have historically been: 1) trees killed or damaged by fire, insects, disease, drought or that have no other use; 2) trees grown specifically for energy production; and 3) trees removed to reduce hazardous fuel accumulations or improve forest health. Woody biomass also includes wood wastes from urban areas (e.g., construction wood, tree trimmings) and products derived from trees such as lumber, paper and byproducts of wood manufacturing (e.g., sawdust and bark).

Q: What is renewable biomass energy? Why is it renewable?

A: A renewable resource is one that naturally replenishes itself after it has been used or which is never depleted by use. Examples of renewable resources that are used to produce electricity include water, sunlight, wind, geothermal, and biomass. Renewable energy technologies harness the energy in renewable energy resources. In the cases of solar, wind, and hydroelectric power, use does not deplete the resource. Biomass resources can be replenished as trees can be propagated naturally or with the help of foresters.

There are three ways in which biomass resources can be utilized for electricity: 1) conversion of materials such as urban wood wastes and mill wastes, 2) dedicated energy crops (trees, shrubs and other plants grown specifically for energy production), and 3) as a byproduct of forest management activities. For example, biomass can be produced from thinning forest stands to reduce hazardous fuel loads or improve forest health. Generally, the biomass consists of small trees that are not usable for lumber or other purposes. Energy production from such sources is sustainable as long as there continues to be forest management activities producing and replenishing the biomass.

Q: What is a biomass power generation facility? How is power currently generated from wood?

A: A biomass power plant utilizes woody biomass for the production of electricity and/or heat. The wood is combusted in boiler systems and fitted with air emissions controls which create steam used to spin a turbine that produces electricity. Or, in cogeneration, the wood is used to generate both electricity and heat. Once steam is used to spin the turbine, it is extracted to provide heat for other processes (e.g., drying, heating). Finally, wood can be used in combination with other fuels such as coal, oil or natural gas to fire boilers and create electricity (also known as co-firing).

Q: How big is a biomass power plant? How big is the proposed eastern Placer County biomass facility?

A: The intended end use of the energy and the availability of fuel/feedstock determine the capacity of a biomass power plant to generate electricity. In the U.S., most biomass power plants are associated with forest industries such as sawmills. These produce electricity and heat or steam using biomass wastes (e.g., sawdust and bark) from the sawmill operations. Electricity and heat or steam generated can be utilized for the sawmill. Excess electricity can be sold to the electrical grid. Generally, biomass power plants are larger than 15 megawatts (one megawatt is enough to service about 1,000 households for a year), but can range from less than 1 MW to over 50 MW. It takes about 8,000 bone dry tons (2 big trucks a day) of woody biomass to produce one MW of electricity on an annual basis. The eastern Placer County biomass facility is proposed to generate between 1 and 3 MW of renewable electricity.

Q: What waste products does the plant produce?

A: Biomass power plants produce ash (about 3 to 5% of the fuel input by weight). Depending on the source of biomass and the combustion process, power plant ash can be used as a soil amendment or in masonry and cement products. Water used to create steam for electricity production can be recycled.

Q: What air pollution issues does biomass power present?

A: Biomass power plants are designed with air pollution controls for minimizing discharges of regulated air pollutants. Biomass power plants are subject to regulation by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, California Air Resources Board, and local air quality management districts. Biomass power plants can eliminate 95-99 percent of pollutants that would otherwise be produced by open burning of that same biomass.

Q: How would biomass power impact wildfire catastrophes? Will biomass power endanger our forests?

A: Throughout the western U.S., a large potential source of biomass for power production is fire hazard reduction projects. Removing biomass from the forest during the course of fuel reduction treatments will reduce the threat of wildfire and decrease the area burned in catastrophic fires. Properly executed fire hazard reduction projects can also improve forest health and make the forest less susceptible to drought, insect attacks and disease. Utilizing biomass for energy production will make fuel treatments more economically feasible by creating a market for such biomass material that currently has little or no value. Biomass power plants therefore pose little or no risk to forests from over-cutting and actually can contribute to improvements in forest health and reduced fire hazard.

Q: How is it renewable energy if it emits greenhouse gases?

A: A biomass power plant does produce carbon dioxide (CO2), a greenhouse gas. However, if the fuel supply is obtained as a byproduct of reducing fire hazard in natural forests, the plant emissions may be offset by the reduced emissions that would have occurred if the forest burned. Wildfires are significant sources of greenhouse gas emissions. For example, it has been estimated that the 2007 Angora fire in the Lake Tahoe Basin released 141,000 metric tons of CO2 and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere within a period of a few days. This is equivalent to the emissions from over 28,000 cars in one year. By utilizing fuels derived from forest management that reduces the probability of wildfire and considering the natural growth patterns of biomass, a biomass power plant can be considered “carbon neutral.” Biomass is a unique fuel in that it is derived from a resource that is naturally replenishing by taking in carbon from the atmosphere. Also, using biomass for electricity production may offset the use of fossil fuels, further reducing greenhouse gas production.

Q: Will there be an increased cost of lumber products or food produce? Will any food crops be impacted (like corn due to ethanol production)?

A: As previously discussed, sources of wood for biomass power generation do not have “higher and better” uses such as conversion to lumber. They mainly consist of materials that would not be used otherwise, such as residues (e.g., small stems, brush) from fire hazard reduction. Consequently, there would be no impact on lumber prices. Unlike activities such as biofuels production (e.g., ethanol) that currently consume biomass usable for food (such as corn), production of electricity from woody biomass would not have an impact on food supply or prices.

Q: Is biomass power more expensive than other power generation?

A: When compared to the direct monetary costs of power production from fossil fuels and hydroelectric power, biomass power is currently more expensive. Biomass power requires fuel that has considerable collection, processing and handling costs. However, rising coal and natural gas costs, which in turn drive up the price of electricity, are allowing biomass energy production to become much more competitive. In addition, when the currently non-monetized societal benefits of biomass use, such as reduced catastrophic wildfire, improved air quality, forest health, reduction of greenhouse gases, and renewed rural community development are factored in, biomass-based electricity provides significant benefits over fossil fuel-based electricity.

Q: Can biomass be used to make liquid or gas fuels? What about transportation fuels?

A: Scientific and technical processes are being developed in order to convert the cellulosic material of woody biomass into usable fuels. Significant research and development is currently underway to make such conversion processes technically and economically viable. However, conversion technologies are not yet considered economical and are not used on an industrial scale (e.g., corn to ethanol). Synthetic gas fuels (syngas – similar to natural gas) and liquid fuels (ethanol and synthetic diesel) have been created in pilot-scale facilities in Europe and in limited quantities in the United States. The primary challenge of developing liquid or gas fuels from woody biomass is breaking down the complex cellulosic structure of wood into simple hydrocarbons and sugars that can be converted into liquid fuels. Because of the promise that biofuels may have for reducing America’s dependence on foreign oil, significant private and public sector resources are being devoted to support research, development and commercial deployment of biomass to fuels conversion technologies.

Presentations Completed for Biomass Proposal

  • Presentation 1
  • Presentation 2...

Master Stewardship Agreement

Various approaches or types of agreements are available to facilitate removal of biomass from forestland. In the past, the removal of waste means of disposal of this biomass material. Placer County will partner with agencies and landowners to implement agreements that will allow the economical removal and also provide substantial environmental benefits.

One approach for partnering that can result in increased efficiency and synergy for the partners is the stewardship contract. Initiated in the 2003 Appropriations Act, Public Law 108-7 grants the BLM and USFS authority to enter into stewardship contracts or agreements to achieve agency land management objectives and meet community needs. One of the primary functions of a stewardship contract is to conduct projects that improve, maintain, or restore forest health. Standard stewardship contracts are undertaken through a bid process.

A variation of stewardship contracting is the Master Stewardship Agreement that can be undertaken, without a bid process, through multilateral agreement. Placer County and the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit (LTBMU) have undertaken a Master Stewardship Agreement to facilitate removal of excess woody biomass from LTBMU projects and transport of that biomass to the Cabin Creek Biomass Energy Facility. Supplements to the Master Stewardship Agreement have been developed for specific projects to study ways to improve the processing and transporting of biomass to energy facilities.

Other Biomass Utilization Grants and Grant-Funded Work

The County’s 2007 Strategic Plan recognized the need and opportunity for stretching County funding by seeking other sources of funding with the following goal: “Identify $10,000,000 in grant funding to examine feasibility of potential projects, provide for impacts of biomass to energy projects."

Many of the grants received by Placer County were either directly or indirectly related to Biomass Utilization. Available reports documenting projects funded by these grants can be accessed via the links below. These projects were carried out to explore the feasibility, economics, logistics and emissions reduction benefits of utilizing biomass for energy in lieu of disposal on site through open burning. A general overview of all grants and the projects they funded is contained in the Strategic Plan for the Placer County Wildfire Protection and Biomass Utilization Program.

    Shirttail Succor Oak (SSO) Project:

    - The SSO Project was the first is a series of projects that have been carried out to study the effects of utilizing excess biomass for energy production in lieu of disposal by open burning. The project called for chipping large piles on the Shirttail Succor Oak (SSO) Project located on the American River Ranger District, Tahoe National Forest. The chips were transported to the Sierra Pacific Industries (SPI) mill site in Lincoln California where they were burned in a biomass energy facility. Results of the project, documented in a report to the Sierra Nevada Conservancy and in a peer-reviewed national journal article, showed dramatic reductions in emissions from utilizing the biomass for energy. The results provided initial information and catalyst for completion of a Biomass Waste for Energy Project Reporting Protocol that can be found on the 

    Placer County Air Pollution Control District

    website.

    Air and Waste Management Journal article Report to Sierra Nevada Conservancy Collaborative Program for Testing Alternative Treatment and Utilization of Excess Forest Biomass—Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit, U.S. Forest Service:

    - In order to explore the feasibility of utilizing excess biomass for production of energy in a local facility, a participating agreement was developed between Placer County and the LTBMU to complete biomass removal and fuel reduction on two national forest projects—Rubicon and Crag--totaling approximately 100 acres. Having to haul the material 60 miles or more to existing biomass energy facilities at either Loyalton or Quincy made both projects economically infeasible. However, the two projects resulted in significant reductions of air emissions in the Lake Tahoe Basin.

    Rubicon and Crag Projects Last Chance Project

    - This biomass project involved processing, transporting, and utilizing for energy production, the excess biomass - small trees, and limbs and tops of larger trees - that was generated by the Last Chance forest management project on the Tahoe National Forest. The Last Chance forest management project was part of the Sierra Nevada Adaptive Management Project (SNAMP) - a collaboration between the U.S. Forest Service, the University of California, other state and federal agencies, and the public - to research the effects of fuels reduction projects conducted by the Forest Service on forest health, fire behavior, water quality and quantity, wildlife, and public participation. (

    Last Chance Report

    )

    Scotts Project

    - The Scotts Biomass Fuel Project (Scotts Project) was a collaborative project between the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit (LTBMU) and Placer County (County) that was carried out under the provisions of a Supplemental Project Agreement (SPA) signed on June 6, 2013. The SPA was tiered to the existing Master Stewardship Agreement (MSA) between LTMBU and the County. (

    Scotts Report

    )

    Clean Air Grants

    - Placer County and the Placer County Air Pollution Control District (PCAPCD) have worked cooperatively for several years on projects related to sustainable forest management, wildfire protection, biomass utilization and air quality improvement. As noted in the 

    Strategic Plan

     for the Placer County Wildfire Protection and Biomass Utilization Program, the PCAPCD has provided funding for many projects implemented by Placer County. More importantly, the PCAPCD has provided in-kind support for implementation and documentation of several projects. The PCAPCD’s recognition of the benefits of forest management and biomass utilization in reducing wildfire threat and the associated impacts on air quality has led to this unusual partnership. In addition to providing grant funding, the PCAPCD has done unique work in development of protocols for carbon credits related to biomass utilization in energy facilities and carbon credits for biochar and reduction of carbon emissions resulting from forest management that reduces wildfire effects. More details on cooperative work and projects related to biomass utilization can be found on the

    PCAPCD website

    .

  • Biomass Box Program - The County received a Clean Air Grant award from the PCAPCD for $70,000 to implement a “Biomass Box” program. The program objective was twofold. First, to encourage County residents to clear defensible space around their homes to improve fire safety and survivability. Second, to provide a means for collection and utilization of the resultant brush, tree limbs, natural debris, etc. to produce energy. Through the implementation of this grant, 3,361 green tons of waste biomass material was collected and converted to 2052.6 megawatts (MW) of electrical energy (enough to power 228 homes for one year). Because this material was burned in a controlled facility instead of open burning, the net reduction in emissions was 88.6 % or over 300 tons.
  • Other Projects and Programs Related to Biomass Utilization

    - There have been other projects and programs related to Placer County’s Biomass Utilization Program that are supported in concept by Placer County but were not part of the County’s Program per se. One such project involved completion of two papers for the Sacramento Area Council of Governments (SACOG) related to forestry in the counties that are part of SACOG. One paper assessed the current status of forestry in those SACOG counties containing forestland. The second paper recommended strategies or innovations for addressing problems and opportunities identified in the assessment.

  • SACOG Current Conditions Paper - ADD LINK
  • SACOG Innovations Paper - ADD LINK
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