South Lake Tahoe High School
Steve Morales, Facilities Manager for the Lake Tahoe Unified School District, needed to replace the South Tahoe High School’s (STHS) decades-old diesel boiler. Based upon his attendance at an environmental conference, he got the idea to investigate a biofuel boiler (to operate from biomass and natural gas). An associated 2003 Feasibility Study concluded such a system at the High School was cost-effective, would provide a net reduction in air pollution (when compared to pile burns), and that adequate fuel sources were available within the vicinity of the STHS site. Based on this study the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA) amended their Code in the fall of 2003 to allow biomass combustion facilities provided the biomass fuel (i.e. wood) for such facilities originated from within the basin and would otherwise have been burned in piles.
At the same time, Sierra Forest Legacy was already working up and down the Sierra to support markets for small-scale biomass utilization. Additionally, Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit (LTBMU) of the U.S. Forest Service was evaluating future thinning projects in the Basin and looking for ways to dispose of the excess woody debris (biomass) from those projects. Finally, air quality and forest managers were looking for ways to support forest thinning (and increased understory burning) while protecting humans and the environment from air pollution impacts.
These entities came together in 2005, when, after learning of Morales’ interest, Sierra Forest Legacy contacted him about partnering up on a grant that could provide substantial financial incentive to get the biomass boiler project underway. The grant was based on a federal U.S. Forest Service program supporting biomass opportunities. In April 2006, grant monies of $243,500 were awarded for this project. Given the extensive national interest in this grant program, this was quite a success for Sierra Forest Legacy as well as STHS!
STHS is currently going through the permitting process for the El Dorado County Air Pollution Control District (ED APCD). Although there have been some delays and questions since the application was submitted in 2006, current information indicates the boiler emissions meet the ED APCD’s air quality requirements and thus pose no health risk to humans. Further, when the boiler emissions are compared to the emissions generated by burning the biomass in piles, there is a significant reduction in air pollution per amount of biomass burned. In fact, if emissions from pile burning were evaluated in the same way as the boiler emissions, they would not meet the ED APCD requirements – this just goes to show the net benefits from the biomass facility!
Once a County Air Permit is approved, the next steps would include obtaining a TRPA permit, going through public notification and outreach processes (as part of both the ED APCD and TRPA permits), determining supply and storage issues, and then the STHS will begin development of the plans and proceed with planning, purchasing and installation. The grant funding obtained via the 2005 U.S. Forest Service grant will cover just under half the cost of the boiler. Sierra Forest Legacy plans to continue to provide staff assistance to help see this project through.