In what could become a new obstacle to construction of a waste-to-energy plant in Irwindale, the state Energy Commission staff has recommended that the developer be required to prove that the $395-million project is not only environmentally safe but also financially feasible.
The project was dealt another setback when the South Coast Air Quality Management District reported that a preliminary analysis shows that the developer has failed to obtain enough pollution credits, called offsets, to allow construction even though the proposed plant's size has been reduced.
The new problems for the project proposed by Pacific Waste Management Corp. surfaced at a state Energy Commission hearing in Irwindale last week.
Most of the 300 people who attended the hearing Thursday cheered political leaders, city officials and residents as they denounced the proposed plant as a menace to health and the environment. No one except attorneys and consultants hired by Pacific Waste spoke in favor of the project.
"Anyone who would even suggest building a trash incinerator here is totally ignoring the reality of environmental conditions in the San Gabriel Valley," said U.S. Rep. David Dreier (R-La Verne), who drew a standing ovation. "Incinerators pollute, and any additional pollution is just not acceptable in this area."
The hearing focused on whether Pacific Waste should be allowed to revise its application to build the plant or be required to file a new application and restart a process that has been under way for nearly two years.
The commission committee that conducted the hearing will made a decision in two or three weeks, according to Garrett Shean, hearing officer.
Pacific Waste originally proposed to build a plant to burn 3,000 tons of trash a day, generating 80 megawatts of electricity.
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.
Unable to acquire enough credits for an incineration plant with a capacity of 3,000 tons of trash a day, Pacific Waste in September announced it would instead build the plant in stages, with an initial capacity of 2,250 tons of trash.
The company filed offset credits with the South Coast Air Quality Management District and announced that it had met the offset requirement. But an AQMD official disclosed at the hearing that a preliminary analysis shows that Pacific Waste is far short of the offset credits needed for three kinds of pollutants: oxides of nitrogen, carbon monoxide and particulates.
Robert Pease, an AQMD engineer, said the analysis is continuing and a formal report will be filed later.
The Energy Commission staff has recommended that Pacific Waste be required to stick with its original plant capacity in its current application and file a new application if it wants to reduce the capacity.
But Steven Broiles, an attorney for Pacific Waste, said it makes no sense to start over. A new application would just duplicate work that has already been done, he said.
Miller Brewing Co, which owns a brewery near the proposed plant site and opposes the project, asked the commission to terminate the proceedings, forcing Pacific Waste to refile.
Gabriel Vivas, Energy Commission staff counsel, said at the hearing that the committee told Pacific Waste in January that it should stop changing the project. He said Pacific Waste's attempt to make major changes now "is an affront to the committee and should not be tolerated."
Vivas said the committee should also look into the project's financial feasibility. He said that until now, the staff has never "seriously investigated" the financial soundness of the project. The emphasis so far has been on the project's environmental impact.
But, he said, the proposal by Pacific Waste to build the plant in two stages raises financial concerns. A smaller plant means reduced revenue, he noted, and that might have implications for people who have invested in the plant.
The Irwindale Resource Recovery Authority sold $395-million worth of bonds in 1984 for Pacific Waste to construct the plant with the understanding that bond proceeds would be reinvested and not spent until a construction permit was issued.
Reinvestment revenue has provided millions of dollars for Pacific Waste to spend on the effort to secure licensing of the trash-to-energy plant.
Once the plant is built, Pacific Waste would derive revenue by selling electricity to Southern California Edison Co. and by charging waste haulers a fee for taking their trash.