Irwindale Resource Recovery Facility (Irwindale)

Docket No. 84-AFC-5

Terminated and Withdrawn on April 23, 1987

Project Manager: Terry O’Brien

Staff Counsel: Gabriel Vivas

Hearing Officer: Garret Shean


Project Summary


AFC Filing and Data Adequacy

Pacific Waste Management Corporation (also referred to as applicant or Irwindale) filed the 80 MW Irwindale Resource Recovery Facility AFC on October 31, 1984. This was the first of three municipal solid waste (MSW) plants reviewed by the Energy Commission in the mid 1980s. The others were the San Diego Energy Recovery Project (SANDER, Docket No. 85-AFC-4) and the Bay Area Resource Recovery Facility (BARRF, Docket No. 85-AFC-6). All of these garbage burners failed to receive certification from the Commission.

At its December 12, 1984 Business Meeting, the Energy Commission adopted the Executive Director’s recommendation that the filing was not complete.

The data adequacy review process continued through several supplemental filings until the Commission’s March 20, 1985 Business Meeting. At that time, the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) noted that the AFC was still deficient because the applicant had not submitted the necessary package of air emissions offsets. However, an agreement was reached between SCAQMD, CEC staff and the applicant that the AFC was sufficiently complete for a review to commence, provided the applicant promptly submitted the offsets package. Relying upon the applicant’s promise to provide the required offsets, the Commission found the AFC to be data adequate at its March 20, 1985 Business Meeting.

Project Description and Background

The Irwindale Resource Recovery Facility was to be constructed at a gravel pit in a heavily urbanized area of eastern Los Angeles County that surrounded the industrial city of Irwindale. The City of Irwindale strongly supported the MSW plant as part of its policy to maximize the local tax base. The waste-to-energy power plant was intended to process a maximum of 3,150 tons per day of solid waste on a seven-day-per-week basis, (about a million tons per year), generating 80 MW for sale to Southern California Edison.

Irwindale was a mass burn facility that would use raw garbage as a fuel without processing. Except for the prior removal of unsuitable large items, such as water heaters, sofas, and refrigerators, the vast majority of the solid waste would be incinerated "as received." (Irwindale AFC, page 2-8.)

The applicant intended to obtain its MSW supply from among thirty-five cities in the project area that were currently sending their garbage to landfills. Most of this waste was being hauled by private companies who were charged a landfill disposal fee. The applicant planned to enter into a series of contracts with these firms paying them for the refuse, thus establishing a strong economic incentive to divert the waste from the landfills to the powerplant.

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 adverse health impacts due to the emissions of pollutants from a garbage burner’s stack. Unlike a conventional, uniform fuel such as natural gas, everything is thrown into the garbage, including hazardous materials which can then be burnt, possibly resulting in toxic emissions. Public Health and Air Quality are thus certain to be contested issues in a garbage burner case.

Irwindale’s site was a short distance away from a large Miller Beer brewery. Miller feared that the project would be a potential source of both air and water contamination (Miller uses groundwater at the Irwindale facility in the brewing process) that would threaten the quality, safety, and commercial viability of its product. Miller intervened to vigorously oppose the powerplant, hiring the corporate law firm of McKenna, Conner & Cuneo to do whatever was necessary to block the garbage burner.

Some cities in the area around Irwindale intervened to oppose the powerplant. These were residential communities, concerned about the public health of their citizens and the contribution of the facility to the already elevated regional ozone levels. Environmental organizations and local recycling groups also joined the anti-Irwindale coalition. The Irwindale project generated a larger, more vehement opposition from an entire region than any other AFC in the Energy Commission’s history.


The Waste Fuel Commitment Requirement

On May 6, 1985, Intervenor Miller Brewing Company served data requests on the applicant that included disclosure of the sources of the project’s municipal solid waste fuel. Miller Beer wanted copies of the contracts under which garbage would be supplied to the facility. Applicant objected to this discovery request on the grounds that such disclosure would place it at a commercial disadvantage in negotiating with prospective fuel suppliers.

This dispute continued for over a year as the Committee insisted that applicant demonstrate progress in obtaining a fuel supply, while initially denying Miller’s motion to compel disclosure, so as not to interfere with the negotiations themselves. (See August 16, 1985 Committee Order.)

The Committee’s January 31, 1986 Schedule Order and February 4, 1986 Order Regarding Fuel Sampling both indicated that fuel supply commitments were mandatory for the case to continue and threatened the applicant with suspension if it did not identify committed sources for 75% of its waste supply by March 31, 1986. The Committee’s reasons for making this demand were partly based upon requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), including the need to analyze waste disposal alternatives, public health impacts from hazardous materials in the waste stream, and transportation impacts from fuel delivery, among other factors.

Applicant Pacific Waste Management filed a series of legal and policy arguments objecting to the Committee Orders requiring waste fuel contracts or commitments during the AFC proceeding. Applicant’s efforts to have the Committee reconsider its orders were opposed by Miller Beer and the project’s other opponents, as well as by CEC staff.

The Committee responded to applicant by issuing its very detailed July 8, 1986 Order Denying Request for Reconsideration and Suspending the Proceeding. This Order 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.

The Energy Commission unanimously denied applicant’s appeal of the Committee Order on September 17, 1986. The Irwindale AFC was now suspended until applicant provided proof that it had obtained 75% of its waste supply, and, absent such proof by December 1, 1986, the Committee would initiate termination of the proceeding. The applicant had previously modified the project in September 1986, downsizing it by approximately 25 percent, so that its initial phase now required a smaller fuel supply of 2,250 tons per day. This modification was a major change to the project that further delayed review of the AFC and extended the schedule.

Waste Fuel Commitments Provided

On November 28, 1986 applicant Pacific Waste Management submitted its signed Agreement for the Supply and Disposition of Waste with Western State Industries. Western agreed to provide the Irwindale Project with 2,000 tons of garbage per day, which it was collecting from various Southern California cities.

This executed agreement for an actual waste supply exceeding the 75% requirement was sufficient to lift the Irwindale suspension and continue the AFC proceeding.

The Air Emissions Offset Requirement and Submittal

While seeking to obtain Irwindale’s fuel supply agreements, the Committee had simultaneously demanded that applicant honor its prior commitment to submit an air emissions offsets package. Since the powerplant would be a new source of air pollution, offsets (reductions in existing emissions) were legally mandatory so that air quality would not deteriorate. It was Irwindale’s responsibility to purchase offsets and submit them to SCAQMD and the CEC for analysis.

Miller Brewing Company had issued a discovery request to Irwindale for the offsets in 1985, which had led to various Committee orders for the offsets. However, no offsets were submitted. On December 6, 1985, CEC staff proposed that the AFC be suspended until Irwindale filed its offsets package. In its January 31, 1986 Order on Schedule, the Committee declared that the AFC would be suspended unless Irwindale submitted a complete offset package by March 31, 1986.

While the waste supply dispute continued, the AFC was suspended for Irwindale’s failure to provide complete offsets. The Committee also declared that the project would be terminated if the applicant failed to submit the offsets by a deadline, which was later extended. The applicant had submitted some offsets to SCAQMD, but they were still insufficient. The applicant’s project modification on September 19, 1986 reduced both the size of the facility and its emissions. This also meant that 25% fewer offsets were now required.

On December 8, 1986, Irwindale submitted its last claimed offsets to the South Coast Air District. For the first time, SCAQMD had an allegedly complete Irwindale offsets package to review.

The Dispute Over Validity of the Offsets

By December 1986, the fuel supply issue had been resolved, and the Irwindale case shifted its focus to the applicant’s offset submittal. The Committee’s December 22, 1986 Order directed SCAQMD to prepare an accounting of the claimed offsets to determine whether they were now complete.

SCAQMD’s January 14, 1987 response to the Committee determined that Irwindale’s offsets package was insufficient for NOx, CO, and Particulate Matter (PM). On February 5, 1987, the Committee conducted a hearing that allowed the applicant to show cause why the proceeding should not be terminated.

At the February 5, 1987 hearing, SCAQMD witnesses testified that the applicant’s offset package was incomplete and included many flawed emissions calculations which were improperly skewed in applicant’s favor. CEC staff, Miller Beer, the City of Duarte, and other Irwindale opponents supported SCAQMD’s conclusions, advocating termination as the appropriate sanction. The applicant claimed its offset package was complete, SCAQMD’s analysis was flawed, and the Committee was denying the applicant due process.

The City of Duarte accused Irwindale of double counting an offset from the Thatcher Glass Corporation. According to this charge, applicant’s package included a Thatcher Glass offset of 230 tons-per-year of NOx which had already been sold to the Champlin Petroleum Company.

Miller Beer produced applicant’s own documents from 1985 indicating knowledge prior to acceptance of the AFC that sufficient NOx and CO offsets appeared unavailable for the Irwindale project. These documents were linked to a charge that applicant never intended to build the project, but was merely trying to subsidize itself financially through controlling municipal bond funds. The Committee declared applicant’s intent to be beyond the scope of the proceeding.


The Committee’s March 25, 1987 Order found against the Irwindale applicant on all major points involving the offset package, including misrepresentation regarding the sufficiency of its offsets. On page 98, the Committee found that Irwindale’s double counting of the Thatcher Glass offsets was "a serious misuse of the Commission’s regulatory process, . . . sufficient itself to terminate the proceeding." The conclusion was at pages 99-100 of the Order, recommending termination:

[T]he Committee believes that it is contrary to the public interest and the integrity of the Commission’s regulatory process to continue the proceeding. The Commission cannot maintain the appearance of a fair and evenhanded process for the society it serves if conduct such as the Applicant’s as described hereinabove is rewarded by giving it an undeserved extension of time.

On April 23, 1987 the Energy Commission unanimously adopted the Committee’s Proposed Order Terminating Proceeding. That very day, the applicant, Pacific Waste Management, submitted a letter withdrawing the Irwindale AFC effective immediately.

The same Irwindale gravel pit in which the power plant was to be sited later became the proposed location for a new Los Angeles Raiders football stadium. That project also failed to materialize, as team owner Al Davis took money from the City of Irwindale, but brought the silver and black back to the East Bay as the Oakland Raiders once again. Los Angeles would end up with no large garbage burners or National Football League teams.