Glendale rejects Scholl Canyon Landfill biogas plant proposal

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Community members, Glendale Water and Power representatives and the City of Glendale Planning Commission discuss a proposed biogas plant at Scholl Canyon at the Glendale Building and Safety Division in Glendale, California on Wednesday, Mar. 21, 2018. Julian Willnow/The Occidental

The City Planning Commission of Glendale rejected a proposal from Glendale Water and Power (GWP) to construct a biogas plant at the Scholl Canyon Landfill with a vote of 2 to 1 March 21. While Scholl Canyon Landfill is in Glendale, it is on a hill that overlooks Eagle Rock. More than 100 residents voiced their concerns with the project at the meeting, according to the Los Angeles Times. Although the proposal from GWP came with a Mitigated Negative Declaration (MND) — a document that asserts that a proposed project will not have a significantly noticeable effect on the environment — commissioners decided that GWP must prepare an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) before the project moved forward. According to Commissioner Leonard Manoukian, they decided to make this decision due to the level of concern that community members demonstrated about the biogas plant.

“At the end of the day, the residents matter more than the commissioners,” Manoukian said at the meeting. “The residents matter more than the city staff, with all due respect. And because of that, Mr. Chairman, I would vote to deny the mitigated negative report, and would ask that you seriously consider doing an EIR, to provide the residents with the level of scrutiny that they seem to be wanting.”

According to the GWP website, GWP proposed the construction of a new plant on Scholl Canyon Road in order to adapt to the repowering of the Grayson Power Plant. Previously, gas from the Scholl Canyon Landfill was sent through a 5-mile long pipeline to the Grayson Power Plant where it was then mixed with natural gas and used to generate electricity. Due to the installation of a new generation of incompatible electrical equipment, the Grayson Power Plant (which is located in Glendale) can no longer complete this process. According to Michael Weber of the project proponent team, this left GWP with limited options.

“It really leaves the City of Glendale Water and Power with two options, and that is to dispose of the biogas by incinerating it in a flare, which is already permitted by the South Coast AQMD and [is] acceptable,” Weber said. “Or a beneficial use, and that is exactly what is being proposed, to generate electricity of it.”

According to General Manager of GWP Steve Zurn, the new plant is expected to produce 12 megawatts per day and help Glendale achieve the State of California mandated use of renewable energy, in addition to decommissioning the 5-mile long pipeline between the Grayson Power Plant and Scholl Canyon. Hans Johnson of Communities United said GWP should have explored other options first.

“We understand the importance of burning the methane, but understand also that Glendale, having passed a zero waste resolution in December of 2011 unanimously, has moved in the direction of trying to mitigate its effects of energy generation on the environment and recognize that there are other options available than burning off the gas at the site of the dump,” Johnson said at the meeting.

Commissioners Chang Lee and Manoukian ultimately voted against accepting the MND, while Commissioner Greg Astorian voted in favor of accepting the document as sufficient. According to Manoukian, it was the environmental and health concerns raised by community members that motivated this decision. One of the first concerns voiced at the meeting was that the proposed biogas plant would be built in a high fire risk zone.

“There is a demonstrated fire risk in the area, and compounding it by the placement of the gas plant in an area of known fire risk, when other options are available, is not advisable,” Johnson said.

According to Weber and other GWP representatives who spoke at the meeting, the level of risk at the plant is minimal despite it being in a high fire risk area.

“The flares are existing there, that is not a new ignition source,” Weber said. “There’s no storage of landfill gas or natural gas that could combust or explode. The landfill gas itself barely burns. So the risk of something happening in terms of a large fire or explosion from landfill gas is quite low.”

Community members also had concerns regarding how the plant would affect air quality in the area. According to child psychiatrist Chris Snowdy, who attended the meeting in order to voice his concerns regarding the air quality’s effect on the area, it is particularly vital to ensure that the plant is not damaging to the air quality due to the Scholl Canyon Landfill’s close proximity to many parks.

“This is not a time for half measures,” Snowdy said. “Our children depend on us to get this right. Our children are worth the cost of an EIR.”

Marguerita Drew ’89, a lifetime resident of Northeast Los Angeles who has lived in Glendale, Eagle Rock and Pasadena, said that although Occidental would be safe if there were a fire at the biogas plant, the potentially harmful air from the plant could end up impacting the air quality on campus.

“Now I know you guys are adults, but you’re still young people. There’s still the possibility, as the psychiatrist mentioned last night, of developmental problems,” Drew said. “And you guys are studying and you’re still developing your minds and you’re going to have carcinogens floating down. It just doesn’t make sense.”

According to the MND prepared by GWP, the plant’s effect on the air quality would be minimal, as shown by air quality tests conducted near the plant. Community member Sharon Lundin, however, believes that these results do not show the full picture.

“The results of the air studies are misleading, because they use studies of air monitors four and six miles away to assess the air quality around the landfill,” Lundin said. “However, there are thousands of residents much closer to the landfill. While this may be legal, I don’t feel it’s moral.”

According to community member Michael Mallory, environmental concerns are not only limited to fire and air quality risks, as the proposed plant would be constructed three-tenths of a mile away from the Verdugo fault, one of six fault lines within a 10-mile radius of the landfill.

“The bottom line is, in terms of seismic considerations, this MND isn’t simply inadequate, it might be less than significant,” Mallory said.

According to Weber, the project proponent team has already addressed these concerns.

“These are hazards that exist across all of Southern California,” Weber said. “This is something that we address all the time, and we address it specifically through building code compliance.”

Zurn said he believes that in terms of addressing environmental concerns, the project is moving in the right direction.

“It takes a 50-percent renewable project and turns it into a 100-percent renewable project. And it cuts emissions, dramatically,” Zurn said. “The fact is, this is a green project, this is an RPS [Renewable Portfolio Standard] project, it is a 100-percent renewable project as defined by the state, and this is exactly the place where the legislature has been directing us to go, to get away from burning fossil fuels.”