Trash-to-Energy Firm Enlists Partner, Hopes to Reopen County Talks

Times Staff Writer

The would-be developer of a trash-to-energy plant in San Marcos enlisted another company Tuesday, a joint venture of an Italian firm and a subsidiary of a Washington public utility, to operate the recycling component of the controversial $250-million project.

With that development, Thermo Electron Corp. hopes in two weeks to resume contract negotiations with San Diego County supervisors to privately operate the trash-burning power plant next to the county landfill in San Marcos.

Supervisors have balked at re-entering contract talks with Thermo Electron’s local company, North County Resource Recovery Associates, to operate the recycling and trash-burning facility because it doubted that the firm had the financial strength and commitment to see the project through on its own. Three previous partners have backed out of the project over the past six years, frustrated in large part by the public opposition and lawsuits that have delayed its progress.

Discussion Delayed


The issue of the on-and-off contract talks was to be taken up again by supervisors Tuesday, but they delayed discussion for two weeks because of Tuesday morning’s signing of a memorandum of understanding between Thermo Electron Energy Systems of Waltham, Mass., and American Recovery Corp. of Washington. Thermo Electron Energy Systems is a subsidiary of Thermo Electron Corp.

The delay is intended to give both the county staff and public watchdogs a chance to study what effect American Recovery Corp. might have on the project.

American Recovery is a joint venture of Sorain Cecchini Recovery of Italy and Potomac Capital Investment, a subsidiary of Potomac Electric Power, a publicly held utility that serves the Washington area. Among its other investments, Potomac Capital is part owner of five solar energy plants in the Mojave Desert and is bidding on projects elsewhere to burn trash for power.

American Recovery’s role in San Marcos will be to design, construct and operate the recycling system that will filter out the ferrous metals, aluminum, paper, plastics and other recyclable materials. The remaining garbage will be burned in order to reduce the amount of dumped garbage and to serve as fuel for boilers to generate electricity for sale to San Diego Gas & Electric Co.

American Recovery President William Sim said he expects 20% of the trash flow into the plant to be recycled, using technology developed by Sorain Cecchini, which for about 20 years has designed and operated similar recycling operations in Europe.

Would Add Credibility

None of its hardware is now in place in the United States, but the company was previously selected by North County Resource Recovery Associates to provide the recycling machinery, said Jerry Davis, president of Thermo Electron Energy Systems.

Davis said American Recovery will not be a partner in the San Marcos project, but will add to the project’s credibility because of its agreement to operate and guarantee the recycling operation as a vendor to Thermo Electron.

He said he is hopeful that supervisors will now agree to authorize staff members to meet with NCRRA to negotiate a contract that will set terms such as how much NCRRA will charge the county to process trash, how much the county will make in royalty revenue based on the sale of recyclable material and to what degree the county will have to share in the financial risks.

The county and NCRRA previously had signed a contract for the operation of the plant, but that pact was ruled invalid by a San Diego Superior Court judge for a variety of reasons, in part unresolved environmental concerns.

The project also is targeted by more than a dozen lawsuits filed by the cities of Escondido, Encinitas and Carlsbad, as well as neighboring landowners.