Proposed Calif. plant earns positive health impact assessment

By Erin Voegele | December 18, 2012

The Sequoia Foundation, a public health research nonprofit, has released an independent health impact assessment (HIA) for the proposed Cabin Creek Biomass Energy Facility near Lake Tahoe, Calif. The project, which is under development by Placer County, aims to install a 2 MW wood-to energy biomass facility at the Eastern Regional Materials Recovery Facility and Transfer Station. According to information published by the county, the facility would use a gasification technology.

The HIA analyzed factors related to air quality, wildfires, traffic, water quality, noise, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and economic and energy security. According to a statement released by the Sequoia Foundation, the purpose of the study was to take an objective look at both the positive and negative aspects of the proposed facility.

Woody biomass used to fuel the plant would be derived from maintenance and restoration activities from forestlands located within a 30-mile radius of the plant. Wood residues from forest fuels reduction and defensible space activities that would otherwise be burned in open piles would also be utilized. Placer County asserts that there are enough of these sources of biomass within a 30-mile radius to fuel the plant for 40 years.

While some area residents had expressed concerns about the proposed project’s impact on air quality, the HIA found that diverting woody biomass from open burning to the proposed facility would result in a net reduction of health risks. In addition, health impacts associated with reduced wildfires were overwhelming positive, and will not only improve air quality, but also reduce physical injuries and home displacement. It could also help ease community anxieties regarding wildfires.

The other impacts addressed in the HIA, including GHG emissions, water quality, noise and economic and energy security were found to be mixed in their directionality. “Overall, these impacts are expected to be minor should they occur, and readily mitigated by establishing open communication channels with nearby residents,” said the Sequoia Foundation in the HIA.

The foundation also included three primary recommendations in its assessment. First, it encourages the country to develop a communications plan between residents and facility operators to address air quality and noise concerns. Second, it notes that the Placer County Air Pollution Control District should increase the number of surprise on-site inspections. Third, the county is encouraged to prioritize the hiring of local contractors for both the facility construction and its operation.

The proposed facility’s minor use permit will be considered by the Placer County Planning Commission on Dec. 20.