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Trash-to-Energy Idea Encounters a Skeptical Public

August 18, 1985|MIKE WARD | Times Staff Writer

Bruce Williams, who is trying to sell the public on construction of a huge incinerator in Azusa to turn trash into energy, considered his appearance before the Azusa Chamber of Commerce a success. "We had a good session," he said. "They didn't lynch me."

Promoters of trash-to-energy projects say that escaping with their lives is about the most they can hope for these days when they appear at public meetings to try to persuade skeptics that their projects will not pollute the air, contaminate ground water, overload roads with trash trucks or otherwise further despoil the environment.

An estimated 400 people filled the Duarte City Council chambers last week to urge the council to oppose waste-to-energy plants in general and an Irwindale project in particular. The council complied, voting against the proposal, and one council member remarked later that failing to vote with the crowd would have been "political suicide." Some members of the audience had spent the previous Friday night booing technical experts who had met with them to try to justify the Irwindale proposal.

Members of the Hacienda Heights Improvement Assn. who are fighting a waste-to-energy project at the Puente Hills landfill are urging a massive turnout for a hearing on the project's environmental impact report at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the offices of the Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County, 1955 Workman Mill Road, Whittier. Leaders of the group already have denounced the plan offered by the districts, which run waste disposal operations for 76 cities.

West Covina Mayor Forest Tennant Jr., who has been on a crusade against all trash-to-energy projects in the San Gabriel Valley, said his efforts are cheered everywhere he goes. "I'm optimistic we'll beat those suckers," he said. "The valley has come alive."

The projects are a hard sell in the valley because its dumps--which handle more than 55% of all trash in the county--have produced odors and pollutants, and residents fear that refuse-to-energy plants will be just as great a nuisance.

Public reaction counts for something, but ultimately local, state and federal agencies will have to rule on the merits of each project, deciding whether trash incinerators can be built here with little or no environmental damage or should not be built because of environmental dangers.

Most of the attention has centered on an incineration plant that Pacific Waste Management Corp. proposes for the bottom of a quarry in Irwindale. Miller Brewing Co., which owns a brewery near the proposed site, has hired a battery of lawyers and environmental experts to challenge the project. But the Irwindale plant, which would burn 3,000 tons of trash a day, is only one of four refuse-to-energy projects pending in the San Gabriel Valley. The others are:

- An Azusa plant proposed by Azusa Energy Systems Inc. that would burn 2,000 tons of trash a day, operated by Azusa Land Reclamation Inc. at the dump and on an adjoining lot used for auto salvage.

- A Pomona plant proposed by the sanitation districts that would burn 1,000 tons a day at the Spadra landfill.

- A Puente Hills landfill plant proposed by the sanitation districts that would burn up to 10,000 tons a day in one or two plants at the Hacienda Heights facility.

All of the plants would generate electricity, in amounts ranging from 24 megawatts at Spadra to 250 at Puente Hills. Southern California Edison Co. estimates that 1.6 megawatts will serve 1,000 homes. If all the plants planned for the San Gabriel Valley were built to their maximum proposed capacities, they could provide continuous power to 250,000 homes.

Early planning has begun on one other major project to turn refuse into energy. Omega Chemical Corp., a Whittier company that recycles hazardous waste, wants to move its operations to Irwindale and build an incinerator for liquid hazardous waste that would create 3 megawatts of power. The proposed site is in the San Gabriel Canyon area north of Foothill Boulevard on land owned by the Army Corps of Engineers.

In addition, projects to convert landfill gas to electricity are under development at the Puente Hills and Spadra dumps, the BKK landfill in West Covina and the Operating Industries landfill in Monterey Park.

All of the refuse-to-energy plants would be similar to those already operating in other parts of the United States, Japan and Europe.

Trash trucks would dump their loads in enclosed pits. The Irwindale and Spadra plants would use mass-firing technology, doing little or no processing of the refuse before burning it. The Azusa plant would use a shred-and-burn technique, removing cardboard and metals for recycling. Engineers at the sanitation districts say they have not decided which approach to take at Puente Hills.

Revenue would come from selling electricity to Southern California Edison Co. and collecting dumping fees from refuse haulers.

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