Commentary: Glendale’s garbage and gas: less is better
Power plants and landfills are two of the most potent sources of greenhouse gases, and Glendale is in the throes of reconfiguring both as the city tries to meet regulations to reduce dependence on dumps and fossil fuels. But the city is moving with eyes on the rearview mirror.
Glendale Water & Power has been burning Scholl Canyon Landfill gas to create electricity at the nearby Grayson Power Plant for over 20 years. Grayson and Scholl are operationally linked by a pipeline, so using landfill gas to produce electricity isn’t a cutting edge, “green” technology as GWP would have us believe. It’s a fallback “greenish” technology, a step above flaring landfill gas, but not the most environmentally friendly use of methane. For example, cleaned methane mixed with natural gas could warm our homes; liquified, it could fuel garbage trucks. Both alternatives would result in less pollution than burning methane in a power plant.
The city’s Grayson repowering project would demolish the existing methane operation, seal the pipeline link and rebuild a new methane-burning power plant at the Scholl Canyon Landfill. Why build an entirely new operation for more than $35 million and place it at the landfill when the necessary infrastructure, including natural gas and water lines as well as links to Glendale’s electric grid, already exist at Grayson?
The city has also proposed to build an anaerobic digestion system that would produce additional methane at Scholl. Locating these two projects at the landfill will undermine state and local waste reduction goals because the waste will need to be replenished — not minimized. A plant running on landfill emissions must be fed methane from decomposing waste. It may take 30 to 40 years for the power plant to recoup the costs of construction, operation and maintenance. However, if the amounts of waste dumped remain roughly as they are today, Scholl will reach its fill limit in about 10 years, at which point landfill gas will decline significantly. Will Glendale get its money’s worth?
The longer the landfill is active, the more it becomes a ticking time bomb. Glendale is required to make annual deposits to ensure the payment of landfill closure and post-closure costs. The Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County have estimated Scholl’s costs to be about $14 million for closure and $60 million for 30 years of post-closure responsibilities — $74 million in all. The longer the landfill remains open, and the bigger it becomes, the costlier the closure and post-closure will be. Closing a smaller dump earlier would be much less expensive.
The city needs to make clear all of its energy and waste-to-energy plans so they can be evaluated as a whole. Glendale has an opportunity to plan for a future that includes a variety of environmentally sound and less expensive alternatives than simply continuing to burn fossil fuels and bury trash.
Marie Freeman is a board member of the Glenoaks Canyon Homeowners Assn. and a retired teacher and program evaluation specialist.
Mary Stewart Douglas is an environmental lawyer who has worked at the Environmental Protection Agency, in private firms, and with a national association representing the state and local administrators of the Clean Air Act. To read a more detailed article by her go to glenoakscanyon.org.