The city and a handful of other agencies have been looking for several years at building a trash conversion facility that would double the life of the landfill, which would be full by 2023 if current trends continue.
On Tuesday, the City Council heard from Environmental Services manager Matt Fore, who discussed the main components of the project. He said San Luis Obispo-based Mustang Renewable Power Ventures was selected as the preferred company to handle the project, a 20-year commitment.
The main change would be the construction of a Materials Recovery Facility, or MRF, which would further sift out recoverable recyclables from what people throw away, and would sell those items.
After that, the city has two choices. Any organic material could pass into an anaerobic digester, which uses bacteria that thrive in an oxygen-free container. Methane is a byproduct of that process, and the digester would harness the gas and convert it into energy to power a generator.
It’s not cheap, and would cost about $33 million to build. However, that cost would be offset by the recyclables sold as well as the energy sold back into the grid. Fore said a digester would also eliminate concerns about air and water quality, since the trash would be contained.
A second option would allow that material to be composted naturally and would have the same diversion rates as a digester. Composting would take place at Tajigus or another facility currently being used in Santa Maria, but no cost estimates were provided Tuesday about how that process would compare with building a digester.
A small percentage of what’s left would go to the landfill, because “we can’t divert everything,” Fore said. However, he added, about 60 percent of all the material that goes into the MRF could be recovered.
Environmental impacts will also weigh into what the council chooses. The landfill that sits under what is now Elings Park was still generating methane gas over accepted levels, and the city was forced to spend $1 million to contain the gas.
City staff went up to the Bay Area to research what is working in other municipalities, and came away with the impression that the MRF proposed by Mustang is “cutting edge,” Fore said.
“We don’t have the answer on which is best, but we believe that two options exist and warrant more looking into,” he said.
Both projects would be included in the environmental impact report, and staff will come back before the City Council on Thursday for a second workshop, where cost estimates are expected to be fully fleshed out.
The council is expected to take a vote on the item later this summer.