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Landfill’s Gas Hazard to Be Power Source

Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles Board of Public Works on Friday chose a private firm to generate electrical power from methane gas at the Sheldon-Arleta landfill in Sun Valley, a move aimed at halting seepage of the explosive gas into buildings at Francis Polytechnic High School across the street.

The board authorized the city bureau of sanitation to negotiate a contract with Cambrian Energy Systems Inc. of Commerce to collect the gas and generate electricity. Officials estimate the landfill power plant will have a generating capacity of 2.5 megawatts, meaning it could furnish power to about 2,500 homes.

The agreement should also mean about $250,000 a year for the city, although officials said that is just icing on the cake.

“The primary consideration is the control of the gas at the site” to avoid risks to people nearby, said Robert M. Alpern, principal sanitary engineer for the bureau. “If we can get revenue for the city, so much the better.”

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Tudor Williams, a partner in Cambrian Energy Systems, which was chosen over three other companies, said power production could start by the middle of next year.

Cambrian is the marketing arm of Pacific Lighting Energy Systems, a Pacific Lighting Corp. subsidiary that produces energy from wood, geothermal sources and landfill gas. Pacific Lighting Corp.'s principal subsidiary is Southern California Gas Co.

Williams said Pacific Lighting Energy Systems will finance, own and operate the project. The electricity will be sold to Southern California Edison Co. or the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, he said.

The bureau of sanitation, owner of the closed landfill, now operates a collection and flaring system to burn off the gas produced by decomposing trash.

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But at least three times in recent years, large amounts of the explosive gas have seeped from the landfill through the ground and have risen into the gymnasiums at the high school.

In the most recent incident, a gas buildup in March triggered the school’s alarm system and led to the closure of the boys’ gym for several days.

City officials, who drilled a series of wells between the landfill and the school to vent the gas, said the buildup stemmed from a mistake by a landfill employee who shut a valve that is a key part of the gas collection system. As a result, some of the dump’s gas evacuation wells were closed for several days, and some of the methane was able to bypass the remaining wells.

In recent months, dozens of teachers and other employees at the high school have sought action from school and sanitation officials to eliminate explosion hazards. They also have said that the trace levels of toxic chemicals in the gas might pose a health hazard.

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Bureau of sanitation officials have touted the landfill energy plan as the solution to the problem.

Williams said Pacific is building or operating landfill-gas power plants at 12 sites in California and other states. Before the end of this year, the firm hopes to be producing electricity from methane at the privately owned Penrose landfill in Sun Valley and at Los Angeles’ Toyon Canyon landfill in Griffith Park. Each of those projects will have a generating capacity of about 9 megawatts.

Williams said the company has obtained permits for the Penrose and Toyon Canyon projects from the South Coast Air Quality Management District, and will have to apply for a permit for the Sheldon-Arleta site.


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