This HIA informed decisions regarding a proposed biomass energy facility in Placer County, California. The proposed facility would generate electricity from woody debris gathered from surrounding forest lands as a result of ongoing forest fire fuel load reduction programs. The Placer County Board of Supervisors will consider adoption of an Environmental Impact Report (EIR), and will determine whether to approve construction and zoning permits for the facility. The HIA supported the EIR and facilitated the identification of potential health impacts such as how changes in air quality and truck traffic on local roads as a result of the facility could affect health concerns such as asthma, injury rates, and access to services important to health. The Sequoia Foundation partnered with the California and Placer County Departments of Health to carry out this HIA.
HIA Summary Findings
The HIA found that Placer County’s proposal for the two megawatt Cabin Creek Biomass Facility Project will likely benefit community health in the Lake Tahoe Region through the removal of forest slash and reduction of wildfire fuels, the diversion of open pile burns to more emission efficient combustion, and the diversification of energy sources.
The HIA showed that this plan for a biomass facility will likely benefit community health through improvements in air quality and reductions in risks from wildfires. The proposed facility would be fueled by forest materials (wood chips, bark, and pine needles) that are currently being generated as a result of ongoing programs enacted to reduce forest-fire hazards in the area. A local elected official applauded the HIA for its independent analysis and its usefulness, not only for local stakeholders, but for communities across the country making similar decisions about alternative energy technologies.
“This health impact assessment by the Sequoia Foundation is to be applauded for its independent, third-party analysis,” said Placer County Fifth District Supervisor and Chairwoman of the Board, Jennifer Montgomery, whose district includes the site of the proposed facility. “The issues reviewed in the assessment were submitted by community residents who live in the surrounding fire-prone areas. The report’s findings will not only inform those local communities, but other communities across the country that are considering similar alternative energy technologies.”
Project Health Impacts and Recommendations
Regional air quality will improve from the reduction of open pile burning. Low levels of emissions will be concentrated at the proposed project site; there is little evidence to suggest that these emissions will negatively impact health in surrounding communities.
Develop a communications plan between residents and facility operators. Clear communication from facility operators and/or County staff could ease community anxieties regarding the facility.
More frequent on-site inspections—for example, once during summer months and once during winter months—could ease community anxieties regarding emissions during winter months when an inversion layers often present
The project will reduce health effects related to wildfires and wildfire risk.
Explore the feasibility of using residential wood waste as biomass fuel for the facility, including materials from wildfire defensible space clearance round homes.
GREENHOUSE GAS (GHG) EMISSIONS
The project can benefit GHG reduction strategies when considering ts broader impact on energy production and wildfire reduction. Health effects due to GHG emission reductions will not occur from this project alone.
TRAFFIC AND TRANSPORTATION
The relative increase in traffic and its associated risk to health is very small.
Improve signage on SR 89 ear Cabin Creek Road warning cyclists of project--‐related vehicles, and warning vehicles of the presence of a cyclist/pedestrian pathway.
The proposed biomass facility will pose minimal health risk in terms of water security given mitigation measures in place.
Noise is not expected to impact health given the small impact the additional traffic will have on existing noise levels, and the remoteness of the project facility from the nearest households.
Develop strong communication channels between nearby community residents and the Project Manager of the biomass facility to ensure that any noise complaints are quickly and expediently resolved.
ECONOMIC AND ENERGY SECURITY
The project may have small and limited positive health effects related to energy and economic security.
Prioritize the hiring of local contractors for both facility construction and operations, as feasible.