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Local News

Santa Barbara Council Considers Conversion to Extend Life of Landfill

A plan for the Tajiguas Landfill would turn municipal waste into energy

After a 4-0 vote, the Santa Barbara City Council voted Tuesday to push forward a plan that could extend the life of the Tajiguas Landfill.

For the past two years, the city and county have been exploring a conversion facility at the landfill, which would be used to convert municipal waste into energy.

On Tuesday, the council — with members Das Williams, Iya Falcone and Grant House absent — voted to extend its support as the city begins taking bids from eight companies qualified for the project.

Although other jurisdictions, such as San Diego, Los Angeles and New York City, are considering this type of technology, there aren’t any conversion plants in the United States diverting all municipal waste into energy, said Stephen MacIntosh, the city’s environmental services supervisor. “It’s a very big undertaking,” he said.

MacIntosh said there are several pilot programs across the country processing smaller amounts of waste, but Santa Barbara County diverts 600 to 700 tons of waste daily to Tijiguas, turning complete diversion into a massive undertaking.

Bob Samario, the city’s assistant finance director, talked Tuesday about some of the cost implications of the plan. “We could always ship our trash down south or up north, but I think that’s going to become an expensive proposition,” he said.

It’s more than just burning trash, he said, and would use varying degrees of heat to convert waste into gases, such as methane, that would be used to generate electricity.

The city will send out a request for proposals in October and will hear back from those companies with bids by March. It’s unusual, Samario said, because five agencies are involved, including Santa Barbara County and the cities of Santa Barbara, Goleta, Solvang and Buellton, all of which send their solid waste to Tajiguas.

Companies will spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on the proposals, Samario said, and “they’re looking for some indication that we’re all serious jointly.”

The resolution doesn’t bind the city to the project, which ultimately will come down to a financial decision, Samario said.

The vendor selected by the city would own the facility, finance it and operate off the jurisdictions’ ratepayer fees, which could be offset as the vendor sells the electricity. The cost to build a conversion facility could range from $50 million to $200 million.

Santa Barbara Mayor Marty Blum said that although she was confident the project would work, the expense was intimidating. “It’s not just hocus pocus, because somebody has to pay for all that,” she said.

Blum expressed concern at the alternative, however, which she saw as buying more land for landfills. “The cost of land on the South Coast is huge,” she said. “We would have to buy a whole canyon like we have at Tajiguas right now.”

Councilwoman Helene Schneider said the city shouldn’t just consider the cost of the land, but also fees associated with permitting.

“Anything in Gaviota will be a nightmare anyway, and as much as we can preserve that open space and that ag land and not turn it into a garbage dump, I think everyone would appreciate that,” she said.

On Wednesday, MacIntosh said he wanted to clarify that the permitted capacity of the landfill expires in 15 years, not its physical capacity.

The landfill would not fill up for another 60 to 80 years, he said, and if conversion technology for some reason isn’t feasible, officials would apply to the county for an extended permit.

“It’s not likely we’d be looking for a new landfill or a canyon,” he said.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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