Assistant Interior Secretary Rebecca Watson visits Northern California

Assistant Interior Secretary Watson pedals a mountain bike along a section of the Bizz Johnson National Recreation Trail near SusanvilleFrom the expanse of the nation’s largest geothermal production field to a tranquil bicycle ride along a national recreation trail, Assistant Interior Secretary Rebecca Watson experienced northern California’s stunning diversity, when she visited Wednesday through Friday of last week.

In a tour through the site of the 12,000-acre Geysers Fire, the assistant secretary saw charred hillsides and scorched steam pipelines. She heard stories of heroic rescues that took place during the Labor Day weekend blaze that burned homes and threatened three of the 21 power plants in the Geysers region of Lake and Sonoma counties.

Representatives of the local Fire Safe Council received Watson’s strong endorsement when they explained how they will “seize the educational moment” created by the fire to encourage residents to improve the defensible space around their homes and properties.

Speaking over the noise of pumping equipment, CalPine engineer Kevin Grey explains how steam is pumped from the Geysers steam field into the turbines at the Sonoma 1 plant.Later, the assistant secretary learned about the production of 1,000 megawatts of electricity from the Geysers geothermal field – the largest in the United States, and one of only two “dry steam” geothermal fields in the world.

Since 1964, power companies have been tapping the steam field, generating power for northern California. Today, Geysers plants produce enough power for a million homes and generate about $6 million in annual royalties for the federal government. Local county governments receive more than a million dollars annually in royalty payments.

Watson then turned her attention to another form of renewable energy – biomass – when she visited Lassen County.

Jerry Wheeless, right, fuels specialist for the BLM Eagle Lake Field Office explains details of the Stones-Bengard hazardous fuels treatment project to Assistant Interior Secretary Watson, left.Touring a hazardous fuels reduction site at the north shore of Eagle Lake, she saw how a project will improve fire protection for communities through removal of dense juniper trees. The trees will be ground into chips to provide fuel for the nearby HL Power Plant that produces about 34 megawatts of power by using a combination of geothermal and biomass resources.

BLM managers and staff discussed development of a regional ecosystem restoration project and its juniper reduction component.

The assistant secretary also toured the HL Power Co. electrical generating plant which is using chipped juniper trees as part of its fuel supply that includes traditional forest waste and chipped commercial wood waste such as pallets and shipping crates.

Speaking with reporters at various stops, Watson voiced support for alternative energy projects.

Returning to Susanville, the assistant secretary toured the restored Susanville Railroad Depot which is now a visitor center for the 26-mile Bizz Johnson National Recreation Trail. During a bike ride and picnic lunch, she learned about the BLM’s leadership role in the rails to trails conversion and the continuing partnerships that make the trail a community treasure and tourist destination.

Watson is the assistant secretary for lands and minerals management in the Department of the Interior. She has oversight responsibilities for the BLM, the Minerals Management Service and the Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation and Enforcement.

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