Air Board Meets

Air Quality Management Board meets in Loyalton 012311

The Northern Sierra Air Quality Management Board met in Loyalton at the Social Hall Monday, January 24.  Boardmembers Thrall, Scholfield, Owens, Huebner and alternate Adams were present, as were Gretchen Bennitt, Air Pollution Control Officer and George Orzanich Air Pollution Control Officer from Quincy.  Jim Turner, manager of the Loyalton Cogen plant was also available, as were about 20 staff and residents.

Among the business discussed by the Board is the Loyalton Particulate Matter Management Report.  Read the report:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

The report is the result of a study prompted by complaints from Loyalton and “rural Loyalton” about soot or ash deposited on cars and windows, and because of alleged health concerns caused by smells and soot in Loyalton.

Much of the information in the meeting has been discussed before, however there was some new evidence that the Loyalton Cogen plant has been emitting “nuisance” particles.  Other possible sources of particulate and other pollution were discussed.

Here’s the news:  The Loyalton Cogen plant, when it’s running, is the source of some nuisance particles.  They are very large and do not constitute a violation of the permit.  They don’t pose a health risk.

SPI put $800,000 in the plant, including reducing the amount of ash.  As has been discussed before, there are different fuels available to the plant; most economical are fine organic materials re-directed from landfills.  Far better fuels, and fuels that should be available to the cogen plant are woody fuels such as hazard fuel removal.

The availability of those fuels is dependent on a number of factors including transportation costs and successful forest service sales.  The cogen plant uses a great deal of landfill material, but a dwindling amount of forest fuel.  Unfortunately, the plant is currently closed.

A great deal of effort goes into making sure that nothing but cellulose goes into the burner.  Plastic material, painted material, indeed, anything but vegetative material is screened out.  Deliveries are tested, and if a sample of the material fails, the entire load is refused.

It is clear that SPI, who paid for some of the testing at the plant, is running the plant as cleanly as possible.  It would help if the plant could get more woody biomass.  Quentin Youngblood, Ranger at the Sierraville Ranger District of the U. S. Forest Service, though not at this meeting, has spoken in other venues strongly in favor of hazard fuel removal resulting in biomass for the cogen plant. 

Lee Adams said it:  Eight hundred thousand dollars is a considerable amount, and all human activities have consequences.  What are we willing to accept?

When the cogen plant re-opens there will again be large ash particles.  Sierra Pacific Industries is following a plan to reduce those particles, but they are not dangerous to people, and they do not constitute a violation of the permit.  It is clear there is no reason the cogen plant shouldn’t operate.

What was not clear at the meeting is if Loyalton wants to cogen plant to run, or not.  If enough people complain about the ash when the plant re-opens, it will make it difficult to keep the generator spinning.  It is clear that the Air Quality Management Board feels that the cogen plant is legal, and more than legal, the materials sent through the cogen plant pollute far less than the same materials burned openly, or even worse, burned poorly, as in wildfire.

The SPI cogen plant uses 10,000 truckloads of biomass a year.  It represents jobs, and many more future jobs.

For example, the cogen plant is burning a high “yard waste” to “woody biomass” ratio because that is mostly what is available.  There would be more woody biomass available if there were more thinning in the woods.  There would be more thinning in the woods if there were a better price for biomass.  There would be more profit in biomass if the trucks moving in didn’t burn expensive diesel.  If there were a steady supply of biomass, the Loyalton Cogen plant could help by providing the location, and heat, to promote a small biomass to motor fuel plant. 

The current cogen plant is not the most efficient plant possible, but investment would come if it were clear the plant, and the region, could sustain a profit in turning dangerous overgrowth in the forest into relatively clean renewable power.  The cogen plant is like a magic lantern that might turn the threat of wildfire into an industry that one day might replace our vanished timber market.

Does Loyalton want to be a part of that potential growth in green forest energy?  If so, the community has to find a voice for that understanding and willingness.

Over and over we hear people complaining that not enough is being done to encourage an economy in Loyalton.  We have what might be considered one fragile resource: the aging cogen plant and the industrial land it sits on. 

If you don’t like the sound of jets, don’t buy a house near an airport.  Don’t like the smell of cowshit?  Don’t buy a house in a cow county.  Don’t like the fall out from the cogen plant?  Don’t buy a house in the southern part of Loyalton/rural Loyalton.

What will it be, Loyalton?  Do you want a place in a biomass future?

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