Combustion Engineering’s Bay Area Resource Recovery Facility (BARRF); also known as the Bay Area Resource Recovery Project (BARRP)

Docket No. 85-AFC-6

Suspended June 25, 1987; Terminated March 16, 1988

Project Manager: Roger E. Johnson

Staff Counsel: David Mundstock


Project Summary


AFC Filing and Data Adequacy

Combustion Engineering (CE) filed the 80 MW Bay Area Resource Recovery Facility (BARRF) AFC on November 25, 1985. This was one of three municipal solid waste (MSW) plants reviewed by the Energy Commission in the mid 1980s. The others were Irwindale (Docket No. 84-AFC-5) and the San Diego Energy Recovery Project (SANDER, Docket No. 85-AFC-4). All of these garbage burners failed to receive certification from the Commission.

At the January 8, 1986 Business Meeting, the Commission adopted the Executive Director’s recommendation that the BARRF AFC was incomplete. CE submitted a series of five supplements over ten months to meet the data requirements. At its December 10, 1986 Business Meeting, the Commission accepted the AFC as data adequate, effective November 14, 1986, the date when the applicant satisfied the final data deficiency.

Project Description and Background

The Bay Area Resource Recovery Facility was to be constructed next to San Francisco Bay, at a site adjacent to the Port of Redwood City in San Mateo County, south of San Francisco. The waste-to-energy power plant was intended to process up to one million tons of municipal solid waste per year, primarily from the City and County of San Francisco. PG&E would purchase the plant’s electricity output of 80 MW.

BARRF differed from the other two garbage burner AFCs in that it utilized a refuse-derived fuel (RDF) process rather than the mass burn technique. The RDF process extracted unburnable materials (such as metals) from the solid waste stream and processed the remaining garbage into a fuel-like substance, which was then used for combustion. RDF was intended to be less polluting than mass burn, which basically took the entire waste stream as fuel, only removing large items such as refrigerators and hot water heaters.

Concerned about rising costs of landfill disposal and a shortage of landfill sites, the City and County of San Francisco had issued a Request for Proposals to companies for construction of a waste-to-energy plant to dispose of the city’s garbage. San Francisco’s Chief Administrative Officer had selected the Combustion Engineering proposal, which the Board of Supervisors approved on December 16, 1985.

However, the Board of Supervisors had immediately reversed itself and urged the mayor to veto the Board’s own December 16, 1985 resolution endorsing BARRF. This policy change occurred when the Supervisors learned that Combustion Engineering was building a power plant for the apartheid regime of South Africa. (Supervisor’s file 53-85-3, motion adopted December 23, 1985.) Mayor Feinstein vetoed the resolution on December 27, 1985. Chief Administrative Officer Roger Boas informed Combustion Engineering on January 7, 1986 that all further negotiations regarding its project were suspended unless and until the Board of Supervisors directed otherwise. The city had then pursued long-term landfill alternatives for disposal of its wastes. CEC staff did not learn about these events until 1987.

Nevertheless, Combustion Engineering still pursued its Application for Certification with the Energy Commission, even though San Francisco had now suspended the project. Combustion Engineering’s lack of a contract with San Francisco for the project fuel was a subject of significant concern to CEC staff during data adequacy. The Irwindale case had conclusively established that a garbage burner applicant must have a firm garbage supply in order to proceed with its AFC:

In conclusion, the Committee finds that the waste fuel guarantee findings, to satisfy Government code section 66796.40 specifically and Public Resources code section 25520(f) generally, requires Pacific’s production of waste fuel contracts or other commitments during the discovery phase of the AFC, to allow analysis and, if appropriate, adjudication of the issue of the adequacy of the waste fuel sources. In unequivocal terms, the proposed project is not certifiable without the waste fuel guarantee showing in the AFC proceeding.

Irwindale Order Suspending Proceeding, revised July 8, 1986; Appeal Denied by the Energy Commission, September 17, 1986.

CEC staff informed both Combustion Engineering and the Energy Commission that once data adequacy was achieved, staff’s first priority in the BARRF proceeding would be a data request to CE for a fuel agreement with San Francisco. (Executive Director Steve Rhoads’ Memo to Commissioners, December 9, 1986.)

Garbage Burner Issues, Intervenors, and Project Opponents

Garbage burning power plants inherently generate opposition in a manner similar to nuclear power plants. Residential communities feel threatened by the potentially dangerous adverse health impacts due to the emissions of pollutants from coming out of a garbage burner’s stack. Unlike a conventional, uniform fuel such as natural gas, everything is thrown into the garbage, including countless hazardous materials which can then be burnt, giving off possibly resulting in toxic emissions which are difficult to predict or quantify. Public Health and Air Quality are thus certain to be contested issues in a garbage burner case.

BARRF’s refuse-derived fuel process, with its claimed advantage over mass burn facilities, meant nothing to the Redwood City residents who intervened to oppose the project. The Redwood City people were also offended that San Francisco would send its garbage to be burnt in another county.

Leslie Salt Company operated salt ponds in vast areas on the edges of San Francisco Bay near the BARRF site. Fearing contamination of their salt by the garbage burner, Leslie Salt intervened to oppose the project. Leslie Salt hired the same corporate law firm, McKenna, Conner & Cuneo, which had been instrumental in defeating the Irwindale project on behalf of Miller Beer, a neighbor at that other site. A large corporate intervenor/opponent brings resources to a siting case that can match those of the applicant. The local resident intervenors had a very strong ally in Leslie Salt.

Established environmental groups also oppose garbage burners as a matter of general policy. The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) had fought such plants all over the country and it joined the opposition to battle against BARRF. Local recycling groups are another opposition community. They see garbage burners as the antithesis of expanded recycling efforts. San Francisco recycling groups became a major part of the anti-BARRF coalition which would lobby the Board of Supervisors.

CEC Staff’s Fuel Supply Data Request

On December 23, 1986, CEC Staff issued its first data request to Combustion Engineering, asking for CE "to provide signed contracts or commitments for the MSW fuel supply for the project." Data request #1 set firm deadlines: 75% of the fuel supply should be committed within 30 days; the balance within 90 days from receipt of this data request.

Combustion Engineering’s January 7, 1987 reply to staff indicated that negotiations were ongoing with San Francisco for 65% of the project’s waste supply and that CE hoped to obtain signed contracts by May of 1987. It appeared to CE that the new Chief Administrative Officer, Rudy Nothenberg, was sympathetic to the BARRF project.

On February 24, 1987, the Chief Administrative Officer informed CEC staff that the subject of the proposed waste to energy facility had been referred to the Public Works Committee of the Board of Supervisors. BARRF was now in the San Francisco political arena, and the deadlines specified in Data Request #1 were clearly not going to be met. CEC staff decided to let San Francisco politics run its course. We would take no immediate action regarding the missed deadlines and simply observe whether Combustion Engineering made any progress towards obtaining a fuel supply from San Francisco. Neither CEC staff nor the Committee sought to influence San Francisco’s decision in any way.

The Public Works Committee, April 3, 1987

Chief Administrative Officer Nothenberg brought to the Public Works Committee a resolution supporting the BARRF project and directing him to enter into negotiations with Combustion Engineering for an agreement regarding disposal of the city’s refuse. This pro-BARRF resolution included a proposed schedule that anticipated final approval of a fuel supply agreement with Combustion Engineering no earlier than September 21, 1987.

Project opponents dominated the public hearing portion of the April 3, 1987 committee meeting. It was also clear that two out of the three supervisors on the Public Works Committee (Maher and Hongisto) were strongly opposed to both BARRF and the Chief Administrative Officer’s resolution. The subject was tabled.

Motions to Suspend

On April 4, 1987, intervenor Leslie Salt filed a motion for an order suspending the AFC proceedings until such time as the applicant provided executed waste fuel contracts and other missing data responses.

On April 16, 1987, CEC staff filed its own motion to suspend the AFC, documenting in detail Combustion Engineering’s failure to make any progress towards obtaining a fuel supply. Staff pointed out that there could not be a one-year proceeding if the most optimistic date for a fuel supply agreement was September 21, 1987, presented in a resolution that had been tabled rather than approved. Staff also provided a complete list of other data requests which Combustion Engineering had failed to answer, preventing necessary analysis, and making it impossible to set any schedule for completing the case.

The Public Works Committee, April 16 and April 27, 1987

At its April 16, 1987 meeting, the Public Works Committee took the Chief Administrative Officer’s resolution off the table. At its next meeting, on April 27, 1987, Supervisors Maher and Hongisto voted to refer an amended version of this resolution to the full Board of Supervisors with a "do not pass" recommendation.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors Meeting, April 27, 1987.

The full Board of Supervisors took up the Public Works Committee recommendation that same day. The resolution "Authorizing the Chief Administrative Officer To Conduct Limited Negotiations With Combustion Engineering" was defeated by a vote of 1 in favor and 9 opposed.

The defeat of this resolution meant that the City of San Francisco would not commence negotiations with Combustion Engineering for a fuel supply contract.

Suspension and Termination

On May 4, 1987, Combustion Engineering filed its own motion to suspend the AFC for 45 days so that the company could evaluate its fuel supply situation and consider whether or not to withdraw the AFC. CE wished to cancel a committee hearing set to take action on the other two pending suspension motions.

On May 14, 1987, the Committee canceled its own hearing and granted Combustion Engineering’s motion for a 45-day suspension. This suspension was extended twice by the Committee at Combustion Engineering’s request, up to February 24, 1988.

On February 29, 1988, Combustion Engineering asked to withdraw its AFC on the grounds that applicant has been unable to assure an adequate waste stream. The Energy Commission granted CE’s request, formally terminating the proceeding at the March 16, 1988 Business Meeting.