The biomass plant being proposed for the small North Lake Tahoe community of Kings Beach looks more and more like a disaster in the making rather than a smart environmental advance. As I reported here last week, the plant would literally be located in a residential neighborhood only 1000 feet from an elementary school and just a few blocks from the lakefront. The potential for noise and air pollution ranges from unknown to enormous depending on the type of technology used and the funding available for amelioration of known problems with the biomass process.
Worst of all, there appears to be no compelling reason to put a biomass plant in Kings Beach. Dave McClure, long-time resident of the Tahoe Basin and vice president of the North Tahoe Citizens Action Alliance, says his organization has been lobbying hard for an alternative to the Kings Beach plant.
"The logical location is Cabin Creek in Truckee, where the material is currently collected, prep'd for treatment and trucked off to the Loyalton biomass plant some 42 miles to the north," McClure told me. "The Department of Public Works is building new facilities to house all of the area's snow removal equipment at Cabin Creek, so it's a perfect place to add a biomass plant if you need to build one, and the trucking costs are reduced to zero."
The biggest advantage of Kings Beach is the existing Nevada Energy inter-tie that will carry energy onto the power grid, but such a facility could be added to Cabin Creek as well, and already exists in Loyalton.
McClure believes that the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency and the Placer County Community Development Resource Agency, the two groups that have just released a Notice of Preparation (NOP) on the biomass proposal, want to experiment with a small plant in Kings Beach, then later take similar plants out to other Placer County communities. Kings Beach is an ideal starting point because its excellent air quality is unlikely to cause concern by the EPA during the required Environmental Impact Study. The Kings Beach facility will be between one and three megawatts, according NOP, whereas the Loyalton plant is 30 Megawatts.
The 42 mile route from Cabin Creek to the Loyalton plant is a major factor in considering a new plant, but Kings Beach is still a 17 mile drive over busy and often treacherous Highway 267 and onto Kings Beach's narrow city streets. The Loyalton route has been in use for many years, but a new route between Truckee and Kings Beach may cause serious traffic problems and risks for drivers, bikers and pedestrians in the city.
There are also questions about the success of a small biomass plant. Such a facility was tried in Carson City, NV in 2007, but was shut down within three years. The Carson City plant failed for a number of reasons, including cost overruns in construction, problems with disposal of wet ash from the plant, and a lack of adequate processed fuel. Noise from the plant also became a factor when funding forced the cut back of planned sound-proofing in the building. Neighbors complained about noise from as far as a mile away.
Friends of Lake Tahoe President Roger Patching complained to the Placer County Board of Supervisors that a false belief has been created:
"that having a biomass burning power plant in the Lake Tahoe Basin will solve some long standing environmental problems. These include the problems of open burning, forest fuel reductions, and the threat of catastrophic wildfires."
Mr. Patching goes on to say, "I am distressed when I see government agencies nurture false conclusions."
Finally, there is the question of whether Kings Beach was selected for the biomass plant because it simply does not appear as capable of defending itself as well as some of Lake Tahoe's more affluent towns. Where would this proposal stand if it was being recommended for Incline Village, or for the Tahoe-Donner neighborhood of Truckee? This is NIMBY in reverse -- PIITBY. Put It In Their Back Yard.