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Santa Barbara Backs Plan To Publicly Finance Trash-to-Energy Project at Tajiguas Landfill

County pursuing new funding plan after private contractor's price comes up higher than expected

Santa Barbara County is weighing financing options for a planned resource recovery project at the Tajiguas Landfill. The project could keep the landfill open for another 20 years.
Santa Barbara County is weighing financing options for a planned resource recovery project at the Tajiguas Landfill. The project could keep the landfill open for another 20 years. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk file photo)

The city and county of Santa Barbara are looking at a public financing plan to pay for a new materials and recycling and trash-to-energy project at the Tajiguas Landfill, after a contractor's plan to build came in too expensive. 

"We were unable to reach business terms with Mustang Renewable Power Ventures," said Matt Fore, the city's environmental services manager. "The vendor's price exceeded the original threshold."

Santa Barbara County, along with the cities of Santa Barbara, Goleta, Solvang and Buellton, wants to build a Materials Recovery Facility and Dry Fermentation Anaerobic Digestion Facility at the Tajiguas Landfill on the Gaviota Coast. 

The landfill will reach capacity in 2026, but officials hope the new facility will extend the life of the landfill through 2038. The Santa Barbara City Council on Tuesday voted 7-0 to work with the county to pursue a public financing plan. 

Mustang planned to privately finance construction of the project with Tajiguas tipping fees not to exceed more than $100 per ton. But the closest Mustang could come to actually meeting the price stated in the request for proposals was $126 per ton.

"It's too expensive and would likely result in significant risk and cost to the ratepayers," Fore said. 

The cutting-edge facility would cover 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. The county currently diverts about 70 percent of its trash from the landfill, but still buries about 200,000 tons per year, which when buried under dirt creates methane gas that escapes into the air and creates greenhouse gases.

A new anaerobic digester would reduce the amount of trash buried to 100,000 tons a year, the equivalent of removing 27,000 passenger cars from the road.

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.

The county in early July voted to look at public financing possibilities, including the county paying for the facility through the issue and sale of bond, with Mustang owning only 5 percent of the project.  

Council members supported the county's plan to study public financing schemes for the project. 

Councilman Harwood "Bendy" White said he supports studying financing options, but he has concerns about "the unknown variables" of the technology.

The only similar facility is in San Jose, which has been running for about six months, and officials there are not letting anyone see the inner workings of the plant. 

"The fact that San Jose is not letting people in to look at this thing gives me real concern," White said.

"I would think  that if it were really working they would be proud to be showing it and sharing the facility."

Fore, however, has no concerns about the technology.

"We have settled on the technology that is best for this area," Fore said. "This is still cutting edge."

Despite the financial hiccup, Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider said she is glad that the city and county are trying to be proactive. 

"It's a good thing we are figuring out the issue of financing now, as opposed to afterward," Schneider said. 

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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