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Public Weighs in on Plumas County, CA Biomass Proposal

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- by Debra Moore, April 5, 2015, Plumas County News

california biomass energy facilitiesThe Sierra Institute is poised to receive $2.6 million from the California Energy Commission, but first the public will have a chance to comment on the biomass boiler that would be built near the county’s health and human services building in Quincy.

The commission announced March 10 that it had awarded $2.6 million to the Sierra Institute for Community and Environment after ranking it No. 2 out of the nearly two dozen proposals received.

Jonathan Kusel, the executive director of the institute, said he was thrilled when he heard the news. Likewise, Plumas County Supervisor Lori Simpson, and Dony Sawchuk, the county’s facility’s director, expressed their appreciation that the county would benefit from the award. The construction would provide jobs; the forests would be rendered healthier; and the power and heat generated would be more economical.

A small biomass boiler, the first of its type in the state, would provide heat for the college dorms and power and heat for the health and human services building.

But not everyone supports the project. Graeagle resident Mark Mihevc has repeatedly spoken out at Board of Supervisors’ meetings about his aversion to biomass technology. Mihevc prefers a compost approach to biomass and opposes mechanical thinning of forests to provide fuel to produce energy.

During the Feb. 17 Board of Supervisors meeting, when the supervisors were discussing a similar biomass plant for Eastern Plumas Health Care, Mihevc objected to biomass boilers at all proposed locations, which he described as “massive industrial thinning that will kill the forest.” Mihevc said that fire is nature’s path to forest health.

Supervisor Terry Swofford objected to Mihevc’s characterization of how thinning would destroy forests. “Don’t tell me that thinning harms the health of the forest,” he said. “I don’t believe fire is good.”

“Forests love fires,” Mihevc responded, and described “trees as more important than all of us” because of what they contribute to the environment.

“But what if they all burn up?” Supervisor Simpson asked at the time.

Mihevc plans to voice his opposition to the biomass boiler slated for Quincy when the California Energy Commission meets to formally approve the award.

According to Cory Irish, a commission agreement officer for the energy commission, the awards are scheduled for formal approval during a June 10 business meeting, but that date could be subject to change.

Kusel said that the project has been thoroughly approved by the energy commission and by this point in the process, confirmation is more of a formality.