HACIENDA HEIGHTS — If the county Sanitation Districts revive plans for a waste-to-energy project at Puente Hills landfill, they must apply to the state Energy Commission, the commission ruled last week.
An attorney for the Sanitation Districts called the ruling "erroneous" but said it will have no practical effect because work on the waste-to-energy plan stopped months ago.
But Charles Imbrecht, commission chairman, said the ruling will apply if the Sanitation Districts revive the project.
The ruling resulted from a complaint filed in February, 1986, by the Hacienda Heights Improvement Assn. against the Sanitation Districts' proposal to build two plants that would each burn 2,000 tons of trash a day and generate 47 megawatts of electricity for sale to a power company.
The homeowners group, with backing from the City of Duarte and a development company, accused the Sanitation Districts of trying to avoid regulation by the Energy Commission, which has jurisdiction over power plants of 50 megawatts or more.
In 1985, the Sanitation Districts, which own and operate the Puente Hills landfill, filed an application to build the two waste-to-energy plants with the South Coast Air Quality Management District instead of with the Energy Commission.
Officials of the Sanitation Districts said they filed the application to meet a deadline under a state law giving special consideration to plants under 50 megawatts. They contended that the application was filed to keep options open, that the project was still in the planning stage and that the size of the plants and whether one or two would be built remained uncertain.
Thus, they argued, it was too early to determine whether the project would involve 50 megawatts of power and should go to the Energy Commission or whether it would be small enough to require only the approval of the air quality district and other local agencies.
Garret Shean, a hearing officer employed by the commission, concluded that the Sanitation Districts committed themselves to two waste-to-energy plants, totaling 94 megawatts, by several actions, including the negotiation of power contracts with the Southern California Edison Co.
Instead of filing plans with the air quality district and conducting its own environmental studies on the project, the Sanitation Districts should have taken the proposal to the Energy Commission for its environmental review process, Shean said.
The Energy Commission agreed with Shean's conclusions at a hearing last week but said the districts had not deliberately violated state law. The commission issued an order requiring the districts to cancel the project formally or keep the commission informed about development of the project and eventually file an application with the commission.
B. Richard Marsh, attorney for the Sanitation Districts, said the ruling has no practical effect because "there is no feasible refuse-to-energy project at Puente Hills."
The application with the air quality district was canceled in September.
Marsh said the Sanitation Districts are focusing on recycling and other disposal alternatives because waste-to-energy plants are being opposed by residents, who contend that the plants could harm the environment and endanger public health.
But Marsh added: "Everyone knows that (waste-to-energy) has to remain as one of the options." Officials of the Sanitation Districts maintain that waste-to-energy plants can be operated safely and should be built if other alternatives cannot meet the area's disposal needs.
Virgil Jose and Wil Baca, directors of the Hacienda Heights Improvement Assn., told the Energy Commission last week that the Sanitation Districts in a report less than two months ago described waste-to-energy plants as "still the most viable option to divert the largest fraction of the waste stream from landfills."
Jose told the commission that it should not regard the issue as moot because the Sanitation Districts are "unrepentant sinners" who are still advocating the development of waste-to-energy.
Jose said the Energy Commission order enforcing its jurisdiction is "a victory and a vindication" for the the homeowners.
It means, he said, that "if three years from now, the Sanitation Districts try to revive this project, they will have to go before the Energy Commission."
And, he said, residents have much greater confidence in the Energy Commission's ability to rule on waste-to-energy projects than they do in the alternative process, which would involve review by a number of agencies, none of which would assess whether there is any demand for the electrical power that the waste incineration plants would produce.