Placer County includes over 550,000 acres of heavily forested landscapes in the central Sierra Nevada foothills and mountains. This area stretches from Auburn to Lake Tahoe, and includes portions of three national forests, numerous state parks, and 60% of Lake Tahoe's west shore. The forested land is at significant risk for catastrophic wildfire due to the buildup of unnaturally dense vegetation following decades of successful fire suppression and exclusion. The County has experienced six major wildfires since 2001 burning more than 100,000 acres, including critically important upland watersheds and wildlife habitat.
The condition of Placer County's forests and how they are managed has a very strong effect on air quality. Wildfires are a significant source of air pollution, including fine particulate matter, ozone forming precursors, and air toxics, which are extremely detrimental to regional air quality and public health. Prescribed burning and open pile burning, important tools for reducing forest fuel loads, are also a significant source of air pollution.
To address the risk of catastrophic wildfire and improve air quality, the District has teamed with other public and private stakeholders to implement environmentally, economically, and socially sustainable forest management activities to restore these forested landscapes to a fire-resilient condition. The District sponsored, in partnership with the U.C. Berkeley Center for Forestry, a biomass waste for energy demonstration at the Center’s Blodgett Forest Research Station. The project served as a showcase for forestry management issues. The project was linked with numerous workshops held at Blodgett in 2012 and 2013 that provided a forum for educational and information exchange with a wide range of policy makers, environmental groups, and forest land managers. The District produced a video documenting the biomass project and workshop issues, observations, and policy recommendations related to California forest management and utilization of forest residue for energy production. The video captures the views of a unique and diverse set of resource professionals, researchers, state/federal agency representatives, utility representatives, and elected officials.
Blodgett Biomass to Energy Demonstration Project Video, October 2013
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Additional Information is also found here: "Sierra Nevada Forest Health, Wildfire Risk Reduction and Biomass Utilization for Energy".
District projects have a wide range of social, environmental, and economic benefits including:
- improving air quality by reducing open pile burning and mitigating wildfire size and severity;
- generating renewable energy from excess forest wastes that reduces our reliance on fossil fuels;
- helping mitigate climate change by reducing greenhouse gases;
- helping reduce wildfires and wildfire effects to protect and improve watershed health (water quality and quantity), forest health, wildlife habitat, a sustaining supply of wood products, and forest recreation resources, and lower wildfire fighting costs;
- helping protect or increase local employment and rural community economic viability
The District's program activities, which you can learn more about in a presentation, brochure, and video (you may need to install an application called "Mediasite" to view this video). More information on the program activities are in the expandable links below.
Forest Biomass Waste Utilization for Energy -- Emissions and Economic Analysis
The District is sponsoring projects to cost effectively collect, process, transport, and utilize woody forest biomass wastes for renewable energy as an alternative to disposal by open pile burning or mastication (shred and scatter).
In a public-private partnership demonstration project (report / video ) with the United States Forest Service, Sierra Nevada Conservancy, and Sierra Pacific Industries, over 6,000 tons of forest slash from fuel hazard reduction treatments in the Tahoe National Forest were utilized for energy.
Published peer reviewed technical article in the Journal of the Air and Waste Management Association documenting the air quality benefits of biomass energy as an alternative to open pile burning.
Investing in a biomass waste for energy project at the Blodgett Forest Research Station in cooperation with the University of California Berkeley, College of Natural Resources, Center for Forestry.
The District was honored with a 2011 U.S. EPA Clean Air Excellence Award from the significant reductions in air pollutant emissions achieved through numerous forest waste energy projects.
Biomass to Energy Credits now listed on CAPCOA's greenhouse gas exchange program
On December 17, 2014, the Placer County Air Pollution Control District issued 2,156 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent greenhouse gas offset credits for sale through the CAPCOA Greenhouse Gas Exchange. The credits were generated from a District-funded project conducted during the Summer of 2008 under which 6,714 bone dry tons of woody forest biomass wastes from the USFS Tahoe National Forest American River Ranger District near Foresthill were used to produce 7,485 MWh of electricity at the Sierra Pacific Industries co-generation boiler in Lincoln as an alternative to the business as usual open pile burning. The credits were independently verified by a third-party project evaluation. Funds that are anticipated to be received from sale of the District-owned credits will be reinvested into future biomass related projects. The sale price for all or a portion of these credits is negotiable. Additional information regarding these credits can be found at the following link. http://xappprod.aqmd.gov/ghgrx/.
Biomass Waste for Energy Greenhouse Gas Offset Protocol
The District has developed a protocol (protocol / summary) that provides a rigorous accounting framework for quantifying greenhouse gas emission offset credits for biomass waste for energy projects. The protocol has been peer reviewed and endorsed by numerous agencies (support letters). The protocol supports the use of biomass wastes for energy through the innovative monetary valuation of the greenhouse gas benefits. Greenhouse gas offset credits will be issued for compliance with California Environmental Quality Act mitigation obligations through a greenhouse gas exchange registry coordinated by the California Air Pollution Control Officers Association.
The District has sponsored the development of a biochar GHG offset accounting protocol with the support of Prasino Group, International Biochar Initiative, and The Climate Trust. The protocol was formally adopted into the CAPCOA GHG Rx on September 28, 2015. The final protocol here provides a detailed accounting procedure for quantifying the GHG benefits of biochar. Biochar projects sequester carbon from biomass waste in a highly stable biochar, and produce renewable energy from the energy-rich byproduct syngas. The protocol uses the biochar’s hydrogen to organic carbon content ratio as an indicator of its long term stability, in conjunction with its applied use as a legitimate soil amendment to agricultural field or road crop operations.
The protocol development process involved a webinar presentation conducted on September 9, 2014, which can be viewed here (Youtube). A copy of the presentation is here (.pdf). The draft protocol is here. The CAPCOA Protocol Primer on the protocol requirements and review process is available here.
We hope to quantify in the future additional GHG benefits that are associated with biochar including fossil fuel based fertilizer displacement, water production and transport, and enhanced plant growth.
Forest Hazardous Fuels Reduction Treatments
The District is supporting on-going research work that is quantifying the air emissions reduction benefits that are provided by hazardous forest fuel reduction treatments (draft report). Fuels treatments involve the selective thinning and removal of trees and brush to return forest ecosystems to more natural fuel stocking levels resulting in more fire-resilient and healthy forests. Fuels treatments reduce air pollution by mitigating wildfire behavior, size and intensity, stimulating forest growth and vigor, and reducing tree mortality. Forest thinning also produces wood products that continue the sequestration of carbon. When fuels treatment projects include removal of excess biomass in the forms of limbs, tops, smaller trees and brush, the resulting biomass can be utilized for energy production and thus reduce the need for fossil fuels.
Distributed Biomass Energy Generation
The District is supporting the assessment of the air pollutant emissions benefits and economics of energy conversion technology suitable for small-scale distributed systems in Placer County, utilizing woody biomass wastes from forest fuel thinning treatments, timber harvest residues, and defensible space clearings.
We are also an advocate for a regulatory structure that recognizes the full environmental benefits of the use of forest biomass wastes for energy:
- Participated in the creation of the new Feed in Tariff program at the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC).
- Assisted with the development of California Senate Bill 1122 which requires the CPUC to direct the three large Investor Owned Utilities in California to purchase a total of 50 MW of distributed forest biomass generation from facilities that produce less than 3 MW at strategic locations near forested areas at risk for catastrophic wildfire. We are assisting the CPUC by participating in the SB 1122 process:
Developing a fair power purchase agreement template
Making sure that the Investor Owned Utilities implement fair and equitable interconnection requirements.
Defining the term “strategic location” in content of communities at risk to catastrophic wildfire.
Prescribed Burning and Smoke Management
Prescribed burning is a vital ecological tool for forest management. We strongly support the use of prescribed burning in the appropriate situation and work with land managers to avert smoke impacts on the public. The District Smoke Management Program was adopted by the Board in December of 2001 in order to allow for the continuation of agricultural and prescribed burning as a resource management tool and provide increased opportunities for agricultural and prescribed burning while at the same time minimizing smoke impacts to the public. This program is intended to help minimize smoke impacts on air quality and the public through planning, use of automated weather stations to provide meteorological data to predict smoke transport and dispersion, and the use of fuel load reduction prior to burning.
Forest Resource Sustainability in Placer County, California - brochure, 2011
Forest Biomass Removal - Fuels Treatment
Video: “Placer County Forest Fuels Treatment: Economic and Emission Analysis, A Case Study of the Shirttail Sucker Oaks American River Ranger District Foresthill CA, Tahoe National Forest” March 2010
Report: Forest Biomass Removal on National Forest Lands November 17, 2008
Placer County Biomass Program
United States Forest Service
Sierra Nevada Conservancy
U.C. Berkeley Center for Forestry
Video: “What is Happening in Our Forest,” Produced by the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies