Some small power plants that burn agricultural waste and rely on state subsidies may close next year owing to state budget cuts.
Called biomass plants, they make electricity by burning orchard or vine prunings. They produce 95% less pollution than open-field fires in the San Joaquin Valley, which is among the dirtiest air basins in the nation.
Area air regulators say biomass plants prevent seven tons of particle pollution from getting into the valley's air each day. The dust and soot particles are linked to increased mortality rates and lung disease.
But state budget cutbacks and unsuccessful biomass bids for electricity contracts may put the plants out of business.
Gov. Gray Davis has proposed eliminating $4 million from a fund set aside for biomass operators. The cut is part of the $10.2-billion package of midyear cuts he is pushing the Legislature to adopt to make up for a projected $34.8-billion shortfall.