IRWINDALE — Developers of a trash-to-energy plant have proposed that it be built in two phases in an attempt to sidestep regulatory pressures and prove that it would not increase air pollution in the San Gabriel Valley.
Pacific Waste Management Corp. announced that it has filed an air emission offset package with the South Coast Air Quality Management District that will allow it to build a plant to burn 2,250 tons of trash a day, generating 55 megawatts of electricity for sale to Southern California Edison Co.
At the same time, the company amended its permit application with the state Energy Commission to split its project into two stages. After the initial plant is in operation for six months, the company said, it will seek expansion to the originally proposed capacity of 3,000 tons of trash a day, producing 80 megawatts of electricity.
Would Be Largest in State
For two years, Pacific Waste has been seeking permission to build the state's largest trash burner in Irwindale despite opposition from many San Gabriel Valley cities, citizen groups and the neighboring Miller Brewing Co. The Energy Commission suspended proceedings in April and gave Pacific Waste until Oct. 1 to satisfy air emission requirements and until Dec. 1 to line up contracts for 75% of the trash needed to operate the plant.
Joseph W. Schilli, project manager for HDR Techserv, which is managing Pacific Waste's permit applications, said the air emission requirements have been met and the company is negotiating waste contracts.
Schilli said the decision to reduce the size of the plant in its first phase makes it easier to meet regulatory requirements, since a smaller plant will burn less trash and release a smaller volume of pollutants. But, he said, the reduction is also a reaction to opposition based on the size of the plant. At 3,000 tons a day, the Irwindale plant would have been one of the largest in the country. At 2,250 tons, it would be similar in size to plants planned in San Diego and the San Francisco Bay area.
By building and operating a smaller plant first, Schilli said, Pacific Waste can demonstrate that "these things are not the death of everything in the San Gabriel Valley" and make expansion to 3,000 tons of trash a day acceptable.
But Duarte Councilman John Hitt, one of the leaders of the fight against the waste-to-energy plant, called the revised plan "a desperation maneuver" to save the project.
He said Pacific Waste in effect is admitting that it cannot get the air pollution credits and waste contracts it needs to build a plant of the original size. Splitting the plant's construction into two stages does not make the project any more acceptable, he said.
Opposition has centered on the proposed plant's impact on air quality through the release of pollutants, including such toxic contaminants as dioxins.
Pacific Waste has conceded that the plant poses air pollution problems, but says they can be overcome.
State and federal regulations will allow Pacific Waste to build the plant and emit certain pollutants by obtaining credits, called offsets, created through the reduction of pollution from other sources. Offsets can come from shutting down plants that emit pollutants or by installing pollution control equipment beyond that required by law.
Richard Jordan, an engineer with HDR Techserv, said a smaller Irwindale plant operating at 90% of capacity over a year would emit 508 tons of nitrogen oxides, 393 tons of sulfur oxides, 278 tons of carbon monoxide, 134 tons of suspended particulates and 27 tons of reactive organic gases.
To compensate for that, Jordan said, Pacific Waste has purchased or obtained options to buy offsets from two cities, a water district and eight companies in widely separated Southern California locations. Five of the sellers have closed plants; six have installed or will install extra pollution control devices.
Schilli said the offsets obtained by Pacific Waste will cost the company $8 million to $10 million. Jordan said the offsets represent yearly 968 tons of nitrogen oxides, 1,612 tons of sulfur oxides, 401 tons of carbon monoxide, 137 tons of suspended particulates and 132 tons of reactive organic gases that will not be released into the air. The pollutants will no longer be emitted because plants have shut down or new equipment has been or will be installed with funds provided by Pacific Waste.
Computing offset credits is a complicated process that involves more than just comparing pollution from the proposed plant with the offsetting reductions elsewhere. In this case, some of the offsetting reductions involve plants as far away as Costa Mesa and Saugus and they earn Pacific Waste less credit than pollution reductions obtained nearer the waste-to-energy site. In addition, plant shutdowns yield less credit than the installation of extra pollution control equipment.