SACRAMENTO — In a setback for Pacific Waste Management Co.'s proposed high-tech incinerator plant in Irwindale, the state Energy Commission ruled Wednesday that the firm must obtain commitments for 75% of the waste required to operate the plant.
Commission Chairman Charles Imbrecht told lawyers for Pacific Waste that "it seems that common sense would suggest" that the commission be told the source and amount of trash before it allows Pacific Waste to build the plant.
The commission voted 4 to 0 to sustain a commission committee recommendation that Pacific Waste have contracts or commitments for about 1,900 tons of waste a day--or 75% of the amount it plans to burn. One commissioner abstained from voting.
However, the commission gave Pacific Waste until Dec. 1 to show it has the trash commitments, extending by two months a deadline previously set by the committee.
The proposed plant would burn about 2,500 tons of waste a day and would generate electricity that would be sold to Southern California Edison Co.
Pacific's ability to secure waste for the plant has been questioned for about two years by plant opponents, including officials of San Gabriel Valley cities and Miller Brewing Co., which has a bottling plant near the proposed incinerator.
The commission had been scheduled to vote on the committee recommendation two weeks ago, when Pacific Waste unexpectedly challenged Imbrecht's right to review the case. Pacific Waste contended that a letter Imbrecht wrote opposing a bill on the issue of trash contracts demonstrated that he was prejudiced.
Cleared by Counsel
However, commission counsel William Chamberlain on Tuesday issued a formal opinion that said commissioners are "entitled to take positions on legal and policy issues without fear of being disqualified to sit in judgment of proceedings in which those issues may be or are being raised."
Imbrecht declined to excuse himself Wednesday and said he had not "reached any determination" on the issue and plans to approach it with an open mind.
More than a year ago Miller Brewing asked the commission to disqualify Imbrecht, a former assemblyman, after he wrote a letter to help Pacific Waste and the city of Irwindale obtain financing for the project. That challenge is still pending before the commission.
Steven Broiles, a lawyer for Pacific Waste, could not say whether his clients would appeal to the courts either the commission's decision on the trash-contract issue or its unsuccessful challenge of Imbrecht.
Terry Kelly, a lawyer for Miller Brewing Co., said he thinks Wednesday's ruling is a setback for Pacific Waste "because we don't think they'll be able to get the waste contracts."
Azusa Mayor Eugene Moses echoed Kelly's assessment, contending that San Gabriel Valley cities are not likely to enter into agreements to sell trash to Pacific because emissions from the plant will exacerbate the area's air pollution.
Petitions in Opposition
Moses presented the commission with petitions opposing the plant that he said were signed by 500 San Gabriel Valley residents.
But Pacific Waste said it has been negotiating for waste contracts. For example, company spokesmen said the firm and the city of Pasadena are discussing an agreement under which the facility would handle 70,000 tons of the city's trash each year.
"We're just negotiating at this point," said Edward K. Aghjayan, Pasadena's deputy city manager. "No final agreement has been reached."
Broiles, representing Pacific Waste, argued against the waste requirement, saying that the Energy Commission has no such requirement for other power plants. For instance, he said proponents of plants that burn natural gas are not forced to show they have contracts for the gas.
But Gabriel C. Vivas, energy commission staff counsel, disputed that point and said that contracts are required for some other plants.
He also said that several other waste-to-energy plants are proposed for the San Gabriel Valley and "there very well may not be enough garbage for this plant to burn."