Trash-to-power not new idea for coast

June 04, 2002 11:00 pm

By Kent Gray

Triplicate staff writer

If discussion of a waste-to-power garbage incinerator sounds familiar to some Del Norte County residents, it's because the same idea was probed and abandoned here 14 years ago.

And a similar plant was built in Curry County and operated from 1978 to 1990, but was ultimately dismantled when the idea fell from political favor. It never generated any electricity.

But on Monday the Crescent City City Council said it believes it's time to take another look at the technology, in the hope that it can reduce the cost of trash disposal and produce low-cost energy.

The feasibility study conducted in the 1980s for a trash-to-energy incinerator in Del Norte County concluded the region is a poor place for such a facility.

"A waste-to-energy facility is not currently a reasonable option for Del Norte County," was the conclusion of the 1988 study conducted by Resource Management International, Inc. of Sacramento.

"Initially high capital and operating costs, a relatively small volume of waste for disposal, the availability of low-cost electricity and citizen concern about air quality and public health issues are all issues which do not bode well for the implementation of a waste-to-energy system here."

But in 1988, landfill space was abundant, the report says, raising the specter that no one would use the facility if a lower-cost alternative was available. Today, Del Norte County currently is planning to close its landfill.

The cost of power would continue to be an issue, as it was in 1988, but the future of power prices is unclear.

Spokesperson Jan Mitchell of PacifiCorp, parent company to Del Norte's current power provider Pacific Power, said the company charged Del Norte County residential customers 7.2 cents per kilowatt hour in 1988. Today, residential customers are paying less at 6.8 cents per kilowatt hour, but with the likelihood of rate increases soon.

PacifiCorp has applied for a interim 13.8 percent rate increase with the California Public Utilities Commission and its decision may come as soon as tomorrow. An application for a general rate increase of 29.4 percent is still pending with the agency. So far, Crescent City has not estimated what the cost of power would be from a waste incinerator.

The 1988 feasibility study also said the county would need to operate the plant consistently because the cost of starting and stopping it due to a lack of fuel would be cost prohibitive.

Kolodner said he has spoken to officials in Humboldt and Curry counties and received verbal interest from both for burning their trash here.

Gerald Kindsfather, the general manager of the Humboldt Waste Management Authority, said last Friday that although his agency expressed some interest it made no commitments. This was partially due to the county's recycling plans.

"We have recently entered into a recycling/re-use contract and are working on a composting contract for organic wastes," Kindsfather said. "The remainder of the waste that cannot be recycled would be considered for other processes or technologies."

Humboldt County generates about 250 tons per day, 200 of which passes through its transfer station.

Curry County generates around 50 to 55 tons per day, according to Pete Smart of Curry County Transfer and Recycling. Del Norte County generates about 50 to 55 tons of usable waste per day. The facility proposed by Kolodner would burn 300 tons per day, although he said Monday the facility could operate on only 150 tons per day, that is still three times what Del Norte County generates.

Smart said an incinerator that ran in Brookings from 1978 to 1990 was ultimately dismantled.

"Basically it was because of some of the environmental people in the county who just didn't like the philosophy of incineration," said Smart. "We never did Phase II of the operation, the energy conversion. We bought all the equipment for it, but the commissioners during that time didn't like the program."

Kolodner said he doesn't think emissions will be a problem with a new facility in Crescent City.

Neither of the waste-to-energy plants operating in Los Angeles County has ever been cited for emission violations, Kolodner said Monday night.