Placer County Biomass Project Plan Continues to Progress

Published on April 24, 2014

An unprecedented project that began eight years ago to reduce the threat of catastrophic wildfire in Placer County continues to make progress. The Wildfire Protection and Biomass Utilization Program began in 2007 when the Board of Supervisors directed county staff to come up with a way to manage the accumulating woody debris in the county’s forests by developing a biomass-to-energy facility within Placer County.

Today, at its meeting in Tahoe City, the Board heard an update on the Cabin Creek Biomass Facility, agreed to an energy sale, approved the terms of a proposed bio-char purchase agreement, authorized the Community Development/Resource Agency director to negotiate that agreement, and approved a biomass fuel sale and delivery agreement.

“The action the Board took today further demonstrates Placer County’s commitment to green renewable energy and all the benefits that come out of that, including bio-char,” said Supervisor Jennifer Montgomery, whose 5th District includes the project site. “The efforts of County staff, Placer County Air Pollution Control District, Tahoe Regional Power Company, and Liberty Energy have been absolutely invaluable.”

The items that were before the Board are key steps to the actual construction and operation of a biomass plant at Cabin Creek. After several years of analyses, design, and environmental work, staff has developed a public/private project for the facility.

Last May, the Board of Supervisors certified the project’s environmental documents and now several milestones must be reached before the project can be funded and construction can begin. The milestones include an agreement to sell 2 megawatts of green electricity to Liberty Utilities, and that the Cabin Creek facility generate a portion of its income from the sale of bio-char, which is the carbonized wood chips remaining after the process that turns biomass into energy.

"I am delighted that our Board Members approved the agreement and material terms for fuel delivery and bio-char purchases today," said Brett Storey, Project Manager. "These actions will bring about real change in the protection of these beautiful forests and significant reductions in air pollution in the Tahoe Region."

To develop the Cabin Creek Biomass facility, the county has to generate a portion of its annual income from the sale of bio-char. The bio-char will be sold for soil amendments and as a filter media for water treatment and other systems. To support the project, staff asked the Board to allow staff to negotiate a long-term agreement to annually sell 500 tons of bio-char.

“Placer County’s Biomass Project illustrates how public agencies can work together to provide solutions to complex and varied problems such as catastrophic wildfire, air pollution and erosion,” said District Three Supervisor Jim Holmes, who sits on the County’s Biomass Policy Team. “This project has received national recognition for our efforts to provide a cost effective way to collect forest waste and use it to create clean alternative energy, while reducing impacts to air quality and decreasing the threat of catastrophic wildfire.”

The county is working with the Tahoe Regional Power Company, which is in the process of negotiating with investors for funds that are necessary to purchase the equipment, build the facility and prepare for operations. Tahoe Regional Power Company told the county that in order to proceed, an agreement to sell the energy and bio-char must be in place before funding can occur.

Additionally, in order to meet the power and bio-char agreements, the county will need to work with contractors to provide the material needed to fuel the biomass facility. Staff expects to return to the Board in March 2015 for approval of a list of qualified contractors. The contractors will work under county contract in several U.S Forest Service project areas, along with other state and local agencies.