Despite aggressive bidding by private industry, the county Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to allow two county agencies to develop a methane-to-energy plant at the Palos Verdes landfill.
The board voted 4 to 1 to turn the potentially lucrative project over to the county engineer and county Sanitation Districts, rejecting bids from three private firms who insisted they could do a better job. Supervisor Mike Antonovich cast the dissenting vote without comment.
Under the plan adopted Tuesday, the county will find a private developer to design, finance and construct an energy plant at the landfill along Crenshaw Boulevard in Rolling Hills Estates.
After the plant is tested and has begun generating revenue, the county will lease the plant from the private developer for five to seven years. Then the plant will become county property and all profits will go to the county, officials said.
The plant, similar to one already run by the county at the Puente Hills landfill, will capture and convert to electricity the methane gas produced each day by decomposing garbage.
Costing $5,000 a Day
The methane is currently seeping from the landfill or being burned off, costing the county about $5,000 a day in lost revenues, according to Supervisor Pete Schabarum.
County officials, who last December estimated that the county could reap profits of $40 million to $54 million if the project was handled by county agencies, cut those estimates in half this week after conferring with the private bidders on technical aspects of the project.
County Administrative Officer James Hankla said the project is expected to bring the county $21 million over 16 years. He said Southern California Edison has already signed a letter of intent to purchase the electricity generated by the methane.
Hankla called the county's decreased profit estimates "very very conservative" and said that the county could net well over $21 million from the project. He said one problem in estimating revenue is that the county cannot determine exactly how long the landfill will continue to produce methane.
Even using conservative figures, Hankla said, the county will still make $6 million to $13 million more than if it turned the project over to one of the private firms.
But Robert Hatch, a spokesman for Cambrian Energy Systems, accused the county of using "a charade of numbers" in order to hang onto a project he says should be handled by private industry.
He said the county asked private firms to bid on the project in 1983 and sought help from those knowledgeable in the industry to determine how much methane was trapped inside the old landfill.
Once the county got the information it needed from private firms, Hatch said, county officials rejected the bids.
'Left With Nothing'
"We feel we've been used," Hatch said. "Suggestions we have made on how to operate this plant have since been incorporated into the county's plan and we are left with nothing."
Supervisor Pete Schabarum said he was "sympathetic" toward the private firms who had bid on the project but noted that there was strong support within the county hierarchy to keep the project under county authority.
Need to Control Leaks
Citing estimates that the county is losing $5,000 every day, Schabarum said, "We've got to do something quickly, and the only game in town . . . is a joint county project."
In addition to earning bigger profits, Schabarum and other supervisors said, the county wants to keep the project because it is already responsible under state law for maintaining the site's environmental safety for the next 30 years.
Several county officials noted that even if the project were turned over to private developers, the county would still have to put up funds for control of methane leaks into surrounding neighborhoods.
Chuck Carry, a spokesman for the Sanitation Districts, said they have already spent $4 million to maintain the site, which was plagued by severe methane migration problems in the late 1970s.
Maintaining the site for the next 30 years is expected to cost about $20 million, Carry said.