The prestigious EPA clean air award acknowledges the Placer County Air Pollution Control District, the US Forest Service and Sierra Pacific Industries who have teamed to implement projects designed to cost effectively manage portions of the 550,000 acres of forested lands that are at severe risk for wildfire in the Lake Tahoe region.
With over half of Placer County comprised of forested land, county leaders understand the risk and consequences of catastrophic wildfires. For this reason, Placer County is seeking out solutions to reduce wildfire risk, protect forest resources, improve air and watershed quality, lower firefighting costs and reduce the use of fossil fuels for energy in the region.
In fact, this triangulation of federal resources, local government policy and private industry investment is a potential national model for other forested communities and could set the standard for wood to energy power plant projects across the country.
The model is repeatable because forest management operations for harvesting commercial products, or for reducing wildfire hazards, produce excess woody biomass in the form of limbs, tops and brush. This biomass material usually has no commercial value. It is too often disposed through open burning, which can cause air pollution issues in nearby communities. Or it’s the let-Mother-Nature-dispose-of-it process, which releases air polluting gases including methane, a gas 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
In both cases a significant amount of air pollution is emitted.
It is this very let-Mother-Nature-dispose-of-it argument that has supporters of the Placer County projects thrilled to have EPA’s recognition. In fact, the Placer County projects prove that clearing the forests of excess vegetation is a net pollution reducer.
Over the past four years, projects in Placer County have been focusing on waste that was otherwise destined for open burning or decay. The projects have processed and transported 15,000 tons of wastes to biomass energy facilities to fuel the generation of 15,000 megawatt hours of renewable electricity—enough to power more than 1,500 homes for one year. In addition to removing tons of emissions pollution from the air the projects are reducing wildfire intensity and preserving water, wildlife habitat and soil productivity. Now there is a 2 Mega Watt wood to energy power plant being developed on Kings Beach, North Lake Tahoe which is proposed to be running by 2013.
The recipients of the EPA Community Action Award for Clean Air were Daniel Jiron, Deputy Regional Forester, US Forest Service, Jim Holmes, Placer County Supervisor and George Emmerson, Chief Operating Officer, Sierra Pacific Industries.