By T.A. Hendrickson
The Glendale City Council voted on Tuesday to delay consideration of two contracts to build a methane-burning power plant at the Scholl Canyon landfill in the hills above Eagle Rock.
The vote on the five-member council was 3-to-1, with one abstention. Voting in favor of the delay were Mayor Ardy Kassakhian and Councilmembers Dan Brotman and Elen Asatryan. Councilmember Ara Najarian voted against the delay and Councilmember Paula Devine abstained.
The delay, for four months, is intended to provide time to find answers to questions about the proposed power plant raised by the public and by Kassakhian, Brotman and Asatryan.
Among the unresolved issues are whether the benefits of a power plant at Scholl Canyon justify the costs. Many of the 29 commenters at the meeting on Tuesday called for an independent cost/benefit analysis of the plant; Brotman was particularly interested in the potential long-term energy output of the proposed plant given that methane from the landfill’s decaying garbage will wane over time.
The cost of the proposed power plant became a big issue at the meeting when Mark Young, the general manager of Glendale Water & Power, gave estimates for operation and maintenance of the plant that worked out to some $50 million over time, rather than $15 million as previously estimated. Young, who acknowledged the increase only after Brotman did the math that uncovered the difference, said it had to do with the accounting for labor costs.
Additional issues to be resolved in the next four months include the feasibility of alternatives, especially solar and fuel-cell technology; assurances that the plant won’t eventually use large amounts of natural gas; and developing a robust fire evacuation plan for nearby communities.
Brotman said that it’s possible, though not probable, that “we may decide it doesn’t really pay to do this.”
For Brotman, a rationale for the pause was to build public confidence in the project by taking seriously the longstanding objections of many local individuals and organizations, among them, the East Area Progressive Democrats, Glenoaks Canyon Homeowners Association, Glendale Environmental Coalition, The Eagle Rock Association and Los Angeles City Council District14.
Mayor Kassakhian reminded the meeting that decaying garbage at Scholl Canyon will generate methane that must be dealt with long after the dump’s estimated closure in 2025. He also reminded the meeting that methane is not a clean, renewable energy, even though California law counts it as such.
In this way, Kassakhian touched on the crux of the matter. What’s more important? Handling the methane in the least environmentally harmful way, which would likely mean using the latest technology to flare it off? Or handling the methane by burning it to produce and sell electricity?
The argument boils down to those who think that forgoing methane-generated power and revenue is the environmentally responsible thing to do and those who think it’s wasteful not to raise revenue by converting methane into electricity.
That raises another question: If the methane at Scholl Canyon is not used to create power — either because it’s dirty or cost ineffective, or both — how does Glendale cleanly and affordably get the power the city is projected to need?
The point of the four-month pause is to gain clarity on those issues.
A pause falls short of outright rejection of a power plant at Scholl Canyon that opponents have fought for. But it keeps the door open, for now, to crafting a different way forward.