To most people, the Riverside County landfill in east Corona doesn't look much like a gold mine. In fact, it looks remarkably like a dump.
But at the bottom of that dump, decomposing garbage is producing methane gas, a rich source of natural energy.
And that bit of underground alchemy lends at least a little glitter to the garbage for the City of Corona and a private company that plans to mine the methane.
O'Brien Energy Systems Inc. "specializes in getting fuel out of a landfill or a wastewater treatment plant, both of which produce methane gas naturally," said Bruce Levy, a vice president at the company's Philadelphia headquarters.
"It's a matter of recovering that gas and using it somehow," he said.
So O'Brien Energy Systems' Biogas Division will recover methane from the Corona landfill and use it to generate electricity in a plant the company will build on the site.
The valuable gas would otherwise go to waste, said Corona City Manager Jim Wheaton.
The city stands to receive 12% of the gross revenue from electricity generated from the landfill's methane and sold to Southern California Edison Co.
That will probably amount to between $100,000 and $200,000 annually, Wheaton said--revenue that will be set aside to convert and maintain the property as a "super sports center" after the dump is closed and covered, probably after the end of this year.
The sports center is to have baseball diamonds and football and soccer fields in a park of 30 to 40 acres, he said. It will be built "a few years" after the landfill is covered, to allow for settling.
The methane project "is also a way for the city, as owner of the property, to protect surrounding properties from the invasion of methane," Wheaton said.
Three-quarters of the landfill area is owned by Corona and has been leased to Riverside County since the early 1950s, said Douglas Isbell, the county's chief deputy road commissioner.
Riverside County plans to transfer its quarter of the area to the city after it closes the landfill later this year and caps the site, Isbell said.
By building and maintaining the park, the city will "more than offset" the value of the county's share of the methane, he added.
Methane reclamation and electricity production probably will have begun by the time the landfill is closed, predicted Joe Seruto, general manager of western operations for O'Brien Energy Systems.
Corona and the county have agreed to let O'Brien Energy Systems go ahead with the project on the city's portion of the landfill. Construction can begin "sometime in February," Seruto said, once the city formally transfers the methane rights to his company from another firm that was bought out by O'Brien Energy Systems.
The company has a 10-year, renewable agreement with the city for methane recovery and electricity generation, and a 20-year contract to sell the electricity to Edison, Seruto said.
O'Brien Energy Systems obviously hopes the project will turn a profit, Seruto said, but "there's a lot of risk involved. It depends largely on gas production. . . ."
"No one really knows how much gas is being generated inside (the landfill)," he said. The company's estimates--developed from test drillings--show enough methane to produce 2 megawatts of electricity, so O'Brien Energy Systems will build a plant with double that capacity, to allow for backup and expansion capability.
Although he would not reveal the Corona project's cost, Seruto said similar 4-megawatt plants typically cost $4 million to $6 million.
The Corona plant will be O'Brien's second reclamation project in Southern California, he said. The company already converts gas produced from a Carson sewage-treatment plant into electricity and steam, which are then used to operate the treatment plant.