Developers of waste-to-energy plants, such as those proposed in Azusa and Puente Hills, will not be allowed to sidestep state Energy Commission regulations by designing plants that fall just outside its scope, according to the agency's chairman.
Charles Imbrecht, commission chairman, said that some developers are deliberately reducing the size of their proposed plants to avoid regulation by the agency. But he said that local, regional and state permits obtained for waste-to-energy plants will be worthless if the Energy Commission decides it has jurisdiction.
"Anyone who proceeds with development plans (that ignore the commission) does so at their own peril," he said in an interview. Imbrecht said some developers, whom he did not identify, apparently think it is easier to get permits from local and regional agencies than to go through the Energy Commission.
Imbrecht said the commission is drafting a regulation clarifying its authority. If the regulation does not solve the problem, he said, the commission will seek legislation to prevent waste-to-energy plants from bypassing the commission.
There are two ways to obtain permits for waste-to-energy plants in California. Plants generating more than 50 megawatts of power--enough electricity to serve 30,000 homes--must apply to the Energy Commission for a permit. The commission consults with local, regional and state regulatory agencies, but has the power to override their recommendations.
Plants that would generate less than 50 megawatts of power are licensed directly by the regulatory agencies and never reach the Energy Commission.
Imbrecht said the cutoff figure of 50 megawatts may be too high, but his primary concern is with plants that are nearly that big but are designed to avoid falling under the jurisdiction of the commission.
Under 50-Megawatt Limit
Some builders with projects pending before one or more agencies are claiming that even though they will construct 50-megawatt plants, the plants will operate below capacity, and thus the Energy Commission does not have jurisdiction, he said. Other developers, he said, are dividing their proposals into separate projects, each below 50 megawatts.
In Azusa, for example, Azusa Energy Systems Inc., which is seeking permission to build a plant to burn 2,000 tons of trash a day, is designing a system that incorporates two 25-megawatt turbines. Bruce Williams, who heads Azusa Energy Systems, said the plant is outside the Energy Commission's scope because the actual power output will be 45 or 46 megawatts.
The county Sanitation Districts recently filed for permits from the South Coast Air Quality Management District to build two plants, producing 47 megawatts of power each, on separate sites at the Puente Hills landfill.
"We're not trying to get around the Energy Commission," said Charles W. Carry, general manager of the Sanitation Districts. In fact, he said, the Sanitation Districts have not yet decided the size of the waste-to-energy project at Puente Hills, but filed the two plans to meet a year-end deadline governing air emission requirements, and to keep some options open.
Electricity Is Secondary
But, Carry said, some people wonder whether the Energy Commission should be the key agency in granting permits for large waste-to-energy plants. He said the Energy Commission is primarily concerned about the supply of energy, but the principal purpose of a waste-to-energy plant is to destroy refuse, not create electricity.
"If that's the case, they should simply build trash incinerators," Imbrecht said. "The bottom line is that these projects don't pencil out without (electrical) energy."
Imbrecht said the commission is familiar with the plans for Puente Hills, and that "others have attempted the same type of technical circumvention." But he would not specify how the commission might deal with the plans.
There are no waste-to-energy plants in Southern California now, but a small one is being built in the City of Commerce and several others are being planned, including four in the San Gabriel Valley. The plants would charge trash collectors for accepting their refuse, but would derive most of their income from the sale of electricity.
Agency Is Strict
Imbrecht said that some developers realize how strict the commission is and would prefer to deal with other agencies.
Some proponents of waste-to-energy plants also want to ignore the question of whether the electrical power is needed, he said. Thus far, he said, the critical issue has been whether trash-to-energy plants can be operated without damaging the environment. But, he said, the commission intends to give increasing consideration to the need for the power and the impact of such projects on power costs.
The Energy Commission has not yet licensed any waste-to-energy plant, but is considering proposals involving plants in San Diego, San Francisco and Irwindale. Pacific Waste Management Corp. is seeking permission to build a plant in an Irwindale quarry to burn 3,000 tons of trash a day and generate 80 megawatts of electricity.
In addition to the Puente Hills project, the county Sanitation Districts are planning a plant at the Spadra landfill in Pomona that would burn 1,000 tons of trash a day.
Two Sites Proposed
Carry said that directors of the Sanitation Districts will decide the size of the waste-to-energy project at the Puente Hills landfill after a final environmental impact report is completed next year. The draft report proposes two plant sites, one in the eastern end of the landfill and the other near the western entrance on Workman Mill Road. If two plants were built, the combined capacity could be as high as 10,000 tons of trash a day.