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Trash-to-Energy Plant Bonds Sold for $395 Million

January 10, 1985|MIKE WARD | Times Staff Writer

IRWINDALE — A joint powers authority created by the City Council and its redevelopment agency has sold $395 million worth of bonds to enable a private company to build the state's largest waste-to-energy plant in a gravel pit here, but the project still faces formidable hurdles.

Pacific Waste Management Corp., a division of Conversion Industries Ltd. of Vancouver, Canada, must still obtain state and federal approval to operate the plant, which would burn up to 3,000 tons of trash a day, creating 80 megawatts of electricity--enough to supply more than 40,000 homes.

One of World's Largest

Scott Matthews, a spokesman for the California Energy Commission, said the plant would generate one-third more power than plants proposed in San Diego and San Francisco, and would be one of the largest waste-to-energy plants in the world.

The proposed site is an 85-acre gravel pit north of the Foothill Freeway and west of Irwindale Avenue. The city of Irwindale has initiated proceedings to acquire the property from Conrock Co.

The project must be reviewed by 17 agencies, principally the California Energy Commission and the federal Environmental Protection Agency. The state commission will consult with numerous regional and local agencies, including the South Coast Air Quality Management District, but it can override their decisions.

Next Step Feb. 6

The energy commission will hold a meeting Feb. 6 to decide whether Pacific Waste has submitted enough information to begin the formal review process. After that will come visits to the site and a series of hearings.

The permit process will take up to a year. Construction could begin in 1986 and the plant could be fully operational by the beginning of 1989.

Charles Martin, city attorney and administrator for Irwindale, said that in addition to obtaining permits, the project must obtain commitments from cities and waste haulers so it can be assured of enough trash to make the project work economically. Pacific Waste is seeking commitments that haulers and cities will send their trash to the plant for 30 years, but is running into resistance.

Pacific Waste has offered to guarantee a dumping fee of $5.50 per ton, which is about what dumps charge now, and to tie future fee increases to the consumer price index. But, Martin noted, some city officials have suggested that recycling and waste-to-energy projects may increase the value of trash. Some have even suggested that instead of paying to dump trash, they may be able to sell trash.

"It may be worth its weight in gold some day," Martin said, "but we don't see any evidence that is possible."

What is clear, Martin said, is that "the clock is ticking on landfills" in urban areas and that disposal alternatives must be found.

Laurence Peck, Pacific Waste vice president, said the company is attempting to secure agreements in 17 cities, stretching through the San Gabriel Valley from Alhambra to Glendora. A few cities operate their own refuse departments, but most contract with private haulers under franchise agreements. Commitments must be obtained from both the private companies and the cities, Peck said.

John P. McGrain, Pacific Waste president, said the plant will start with 3,000 tons of trash a day but could be expanded to handle 10,000 tons a day.

Even with 3,000 tons a day, the plant would be one of the world's largest. And by using a new design, it would create more electricity than any other such plant in the world, he said.

The project is so large that it has invited skepticism, McGrain conceded.

"They said, 'You'll never finance it and you'll never get a location,' " but, McGrain said, these problems have been overcome, although other problems remain.

One worry is air pollution. McGrain said up to $45 million will be spent on air pollution control equipment, but some pollutants will escape into the air anyway. Documents filed by the company with regulatory agencies note that emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide and other pollutants will exceed permitted levels.

The plant could offset some of this increase by paying for pollution control equipment for other companies.

Environmental Benefits

McGrain said the plant will improve the area's environment by decreasing reliance on dumps, where trash can cause odors, seep into ground water and create toxic gas.

McGrain said every effort will be made to protect air quality. "I don't want to be known as the guy who added to air pollution in the San Gabriel Valley," he said.

Complicating pollution control is the fact that the plant is to be built in a gravel pit 180 feet deep. In order to disperse pollutants, it is necessary to build a tower, usually the higher the better. McGrain said the tower will be built as high as necessary, even though 180 feet must be added to its height to offset the gravel pit's depth.

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