Mayor wants trash-to-power project

May 30, 2002 11:00 pm

By Kent Gray

Triplicate staff writer

Saving money and making Del Norte County self-sufficient is powering Mayor Herb Kolodner's idea to build a "trash-to-power" incinerator in the county.

"All I'm saying is, ‘here is a concept that perhaps its time has come,'" said Crescent City Mayor Kolodner. "I will ask the council if they think it should be studied. Is it feasible? Is it something to benefit Del Norte County? If yes, let's do it. If not, then don't."

Kolodner's proposal, which will be presented at 6 p.m. Monday to the City Council at the Cultural Center, is wide-ranging.

It proposes a $25-million facility burning 300 tons of non-recyclable trash per day and generating enough electricity to power 10,000 homes.

He envisions the facility being built somewhere in the county, preferably near the proposed transfer station.

Kolodner said he believes an operating incinerator could save the county money in several ways:

It would reduce shipping county garbage to distant landfills after the county landfill closes. This would save in shipping and dumping costs. Del Norte could receive garbage from Humboldt and Curry counties, Kolodner said, not only charging them for collection but turning the trash into power for the county. And by generating power locally, the county could conceivably keep power costs down by relying less on the often-volatile prices on the power market.

A less tangible benefit from generating power locally, said Kolodner, is the enticement it provides for businesses interested in relocating.

"If Nor-Cal becomes a working entity, we can generate our own electricity – we can generate our own power here," Kolodner said. The Nor-Cal Electric Authority is proposed as a publicly owned power company for Northern California.

"When we generate our own power we can say to businesses ‘we can guarantee you a low rate and an uninterrupted source of power.' And these would be nice jobs with good pay, like firms from Silicon Valley. We'll say ‘we've got the manpower here, come to Del Norte County,'" Kolodner said.

A few such facilities already exist in the state, but they are located mainly in high-population areas.

Al Foley, the Operations Officer for the Southeast Resource Recovery Facility in Long Beach, Calif., is familiar with the incinerator. Long Beach has been running its plant successfully for years, Foley said, but it depends on a large volume of trash.

"That was definitely a concern when we first looked at it because if you don't have enough fuel you can't generate electricity," Foley said. "As it turns out, we actually have to turn people away because we get too much."

Foley said the Long Beach plant is jointly owned and governed by the city of Long Beach and the Los Angeles County Sanitation District – in an urban center containing nearly 10 million people.

"It's a regional issue. Just because it functions well in one region doesn't mean it will in another," said Foley. "If you can make the economics work, it is a very viable, energy-efficient, self-sufficient way of managing municipal solid waste."

Kolodner said he received interest from Curry and Humboldt counties to ship trash to Del Norte, as opposed to the distant Dry Creek Landfill near Medford. Curry County officials said they generate approximately 60 tons per day that could be burned in the incinerator. Humboldt has approximately 250 tons. Kolodner envisions a 300-ton-per-day incinerator, which would accommodate this tonnage without factoring in Del Norte refuse.

After the refuse is burned, the gaseous waste would be cleaned and reduced to solids and ash, which would comply with federal and state air pollution controls. Foley said his plant has never exceeded the legal limits in emissions. The problem of what to do with the waste ash is another matter.

"When you burn waste you are condensing a lot of waste," said Foley. "For instance, you go from 2,000 pounds to about 700 pounds through incineration. There is a reduction in weight so there is a reduction in disposal costs."

But the leftover waste is considered hazardous waste to environmental officials. This could create a greater expense if it all had to be shipped to the specific and rare landfills that accept it.

"There are treatment processes we use on it," said Foley. "We add phosphate and cement to it to make concrete. We use this as a road base and landfill cover. There is not other use for it. In the future, we'd like to use it for cinder blocks."

Kolodner said he wasn't positive if cinder blocks could or could not be made from the waste, but he said there were other uses that are needed in Del Norte.

"We can use it to cover our landfill, which we need to do. We can use it to stabilize mountainsides, which we need to do," said Kolodner. "But I have been told and I have it here in writing that it can be used for cinder blocks and other products as well."

According to Kolodner's figures, the cost of building the facility could run anywhere from $15 million to $25 million. He said federal and state grants could pay for some or all of the construction.

If begun today, Kolodner said the timeframe for the entire project would coincide with contracts between Nor-Cal and PacifiCorp.

"The timeframe we are envisioning would be five to seven years – from the start of regulation approval to turning the switch," said Kolodner. "This would tie in well with our Nor-Cal arrangement because for the first five years they (Nor-Cal) have to buy power from (PacifiCorp). After that we can produce our own and have more local control."

Kolodner said his main concern with the project is how it will be perceived by advocates of the pending transfer station, which will sort county trash and ship it to outlying landfills once Del Norte's landfill is closed.

"It has been shown that this concept does not inhibit the environmental benefits of a transfer station. On the contrary, it enhances it," Kolodner said. "Places that do this recycle more than they cart to the landfill."