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Santa Barbara County Eyes $50 Million Trash-to-Energy Project for Tajiguas Landfill

Rates could rise as much as $3 a month to pay for the facility, which is intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions

Santa Barbara County is proposing a $50 million trash-to-energy project that would double the life of the Tajiguas landfill and radically redefine trash diversion as we know it.

The Resource Recovery Project would pull recyclable and organic material that residents throw into their trash, sort it, and then turn the organic waste into methane gas. The gas would be converted into energy, to power on-site generators and also sell back to the grid.

“It’s a regional solution to our solid waste problem,” First District County Supervisor Salud Carbajal told Noozhawk. “It’s environmentally friendly. It’s going to be fantastic for the county.”

The county released a draft environmental impact report last week and will hold a public meeting on Sept. 4. The project — bureaucratically called the Materials Recovery Facility and Dry Fermentation Anaerobic Digestion Facility — would blanket 60,000 square feet and would strip the recyclables and organic materials from the trash. The remaining trash would get buried in the landfill 17 miles west of Goleta.

At the current rate, the landfill will reach capacity in 2026; officials hope the new facility will extend the life of the landfill through 2038.

As it stands now, the county diverts about 70 percent of its trash from the landfill. It still buries about 200,000 tons, which when buried under dirt creates methane gas that escapes into the air and creates greenhouse gases. With the new anaerobic digester, county officials hope to only bury about 100,000 tons a year, the equivalent of removing 27,000 passenger cars from the road.

The county is the lead applicant on the project, but will partner with the other local agencies. The county plans to hire Newport Beach-based vendor Mustang Renewable Power Ventures to use proprietary technology for the operation; Mustang in turn will contract with MarBorg Industries to run it. AJ Diani of Santa Maria will build the facility.

Crews would also build a new groundwater well would to provide water to the project, and two new self-contained commercial wastewater units to treat the project’s domestic wastewater. The project would also require a new 220,000-gallon fire suppression water storage tank to provide water for the building sprinkler systems.

At its current rate of receivables, the Tajiguas landfill west of Goleta will reach capacity in 2026. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)
At its current rate of receivables, the Tajiguas landfill west of Goleta will reach capacity in 2026. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

“This is really aimed at getting the recyclable material that we are leaving in the trash can,” said Matt Fore, manager of the City of Santa Barbara’s Environmental Services Division. “We still leave a lot of recyclable material in the trash.”

The trash that is sorted will go into the landfill, but the organics will be stripped away. They will then be placed into an airtight chamber, similar to a storage bay, and sprinkled with water. Unlike burying the trash under the dirt, the technology in the digester will capture all of the methane gas and turn it into energy.

“It’s all enclosed,” Fore said. “The technology we are planning is enclosed and airtight.”

The project, however, will cost ratepayers more.

Mark Schleich, deputy director of the county’s Resource Recovery & Waste Management Division, said he hopes that the rates stay “on par” but that they probably would increase between $2 to $3 per month. He balanced those higher rates with the benefits of reduction in greenhouse gases from burying it in the landfill, and the creation of new jobs.

Schleich said the facility would create 40 construction jobs and 56 permanent jobs to operate it.

At a recent Santa Barbara Planning Commission meeting, commissioner Michael Jordan said he had mixed feelings about the project.

“The whole project is driven by the fact that we are collectively not just doing good enough with our recycling,” Jordan said. “The public overall is not doing as good as it could do.”

But Schleich and Fore countered that the county is already at a 70 percent diversion rate and this new facility would increase that rate to possibly 80 percent.

“Our goal is to minimize the amount of material that goes into the landfill for the long term and provide a cost-effective solution to the community,” Schleich said. “This is a cost-effective way and long-term solution for providing for waste management that is environmentally conscious.”

The new facility will enhance the good efforts already being made, Fore said.

“The anaerobic digester is a really big change,” he said. “That is a new piece of infrastructure that we don’t even have.”

San Jose recently built and opened a similar facility, but on a larger scale, Schleich said, adding that the digester would single-handedly reduce the most greenhouse gases of any other project currently proposed locally.

Schleich said residents would still be incentivized to separate their own recyclables and organic waste from the trash because the result is much cleaner. For example, paper that is thrown into the trash would have less resale and recyclable value if it gets wet in the trash, even after getting stripped at the new facility.

“By people sorting at home we get a cleaner value,” Schleich said.

The public is allowed to comment on the draft EIR through Sept. 24.

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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