Glendale Planning Commission rejects Glendale Water and Power’s biogas plant proposal for Scholl Canyon

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Main road at Scholl Canyon Landfill in Los Angeles, CA. Oct. 16, 2021. Em Balaghi/ The Occidental

In a 5-0 vote, the Glendale Planning Commission rejected the proposal from Glendale Water and Power (GWP) to establish a biogas power plant at Scholl Canyon that would take landfill gases and convert them to power. This decision came after a five-plus hour meeting Oct. 6 which included an explanation of the final environmental impact report (FEIR) from GWP and questioning from commissioners and citizen callers.

In their opening statement at the meeting, defenders of the proposal — including members from Stantec Consulting Services, Montrose Environmental Group, the Glendale Fire Department and GWP itself — presented the idea for the biogas plant. As a landfill, Scholl Canyon produces gases such as methane that need to be managed under California’s Landfill Methane Regulation. As of now, those gases are being burned away by flares which reduce methane emissions and burn flammable gases that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere. GWP’s proposal introduces the idea of a biogas plant, which would install combustion engines to burn away the methane instead of the flares, thus generating power while dealing with the methane issue.

John Takhtalian, Deputy City Manager for the City of Glendale, said the proposal would put to use landfill gases that already exist.

“Put simply, the landfill gases exists now and have to be addressed one way or another,” Takhtalian said via email. “With the proposed plant, the same gas would be utilized in a controlled fashion to generate electricity, which will be distributed back into the City’s electrical grid to supply power to our residents and businesses.”

The proposal included four engines, each designed to run on landfill gas, that would produce three megawatts of power each. Les Toth, a mechanical engineer from Stantec Consulting Services representing the GWP proposal, said during the meeting that all four generators would run on full power until 2032. At that point, one of the generators would go offline until 2040. The projected models, he says, are set to stop in 2040 due to the difficulty of evaluating landfill gas levels that far into the future. Toth said although the FEIR says 10 percent natural gas supplementation was allowed in the generators, only 1.5 percent natural gas was required in the pre-combustion chambers, which was a point of confusion that came up during the meeting. The rest, Toth said, would be entirely landfill gas-powered.

Opponents of this proposal — including organized coalitions such as the East Area Progressive Democrats and the Glenoaks Canyon Homeowners Association, as well as various citizens of Glendale and Eagle Rock — were not allowed to attend the meeting in person, but had a chance to call in and voice their opinions. Those allowed to attend the meeting in person included commissioners and members of the defense of the proposal, according to Hans Johnson, President of the East Area Progressive Democrats. He said that opposition to this proposal has existed since its inception and many community members were ready to add their voices.

“I know Oxy alums going back to the early 90s, who referred to the Scholl Canyon dump as ‘Mount Stinky,’” Johnson said. “One of the concerns of nearby residents is that the industrialization of this proposal will create less stigma and an easier slide into continued dumping or even more hazardous dumping at the site.”

Johnson called into the meeting to voice these concerns, saying the FEIR is haphazard and asking the commissioners to reject the plan.

“It has been the city’s long standing position that the Scholl Canyon Landfill is nearing its lifetime capacity and there are no intentions for future expansion of that facility once that volume limit is reached,” Tahktalian said via email. “Further, the intended operation of the proposed biogas project is not contingent upon any additional landfill operations beyond the closure of the existing landfill, as its reliance on the already existing landfill gas naturally occurring from the landfill will be adequate for the anticipated life of this project.”

Jackie Gish, chair of the Glenoaks County Homeowners Association (GOCHA) Landfill Committee, said FEIR is inconsistent with the numbers presented at the hearing, and does not adequately cover the issue. She said that although the wattage is listed, methane levels will be reduced over time and therefore, the amount of power produced will also gradually decrease. According to Gish, the FEIR does not cover this aspect in enough detail; the 1.5 percent natural gas necessary for the pre-combustion chambers mentioned in the commission meeting was new information not mentioned in the FEIR. Gish said she was also concerned by the quality of the air.

“The air exceeds safe levels 100 meters in all directions around the plant, so it’s like a football field in all directions,” Gish said.

Gish said that although right now flaring is not the perfect solution, she does not believe that a perfect solution exists. She believes that flaring is safer than the alternatives, and that safety should be the primary concern — especially considering that, according to Gish, the landfill is supposed to close in four years. She said people should be asking what should be put there once the landfill closes.

“I think Glendale has been waiting for a decision on this power plant before making plans on what will happen once the landfill closes,” Gish said. “But either way, this is an area that I think the communities surrounding the landfill need to push on. We should get community input on what the theme of the area should look like.”

This article was revised Oct. 20 at 6:00 p.m. to clarify Gish’s title, the correct spelling of FEIR and that Takhtalian only discussed how the plant would function and did not state support for the proposal. In addition, the revision clarifies that the landfill will close in four to five years regardless of whether the biogas plant is built.