California’s Tajiguas Landfill to construct AD project in 2017

By Katie Fletcher | November 30, 2016

Located 26 miles west of Santa Barbara, California, sprawls the Tajiguas Landfill, and since it began operating in 1967, the county has modified its operations to respond to updated requirements for solid waste disposal and to incorporate advancements in technology.

Now, the Santa Barbara County Department of Public Works, in collaboration with the cities of Santa Barbara, Goleta, Solvang and Buellton, hopes to further modify current waste management operations at the landfill by adding a materials recovery facility (MRF) and dry fermentation anaerobic digestion (AD) facility.

In July, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a contract with MSB Investors LLC to build and operate a resource recovery project at the landfill. It also certified the Final Subsequent Environmental Impact Report associated with this proposed project.  

According to Carlyle Johnston, project leader with the Santa Barbara County resource recovery and waste management division, agreements between the cities that will be using the facility (Santa Barbara, Goleta, Solvang and Buellton) are now being finalized. They’ll also need to complete and release the public financing package and finalize permits. Johnston said they hope to break ground on the project sometime next year and have the project operational by January 2019.

Johnston shared that many factors and well over 100 public meetings led the county to decide to implement such a project. “The original starting point is the 2002 expansion of the Tajiguas Landfill when the County Board of Supervisors asked public works staff to look into alternatives to landfilling,” Johnston said.

The existing Tajiguas Landfill made a lot of sense for the project, as the south coast of Santa Barbara is a geographically isolated area, and project developers are limited in places they are able to build such projects. Aside from Tajiguas Landfill, the next closest landfills are nearly 70 miles away from the urban core, according to Johnston.

Beyond being the most practical location, a more recent project motivator is the large amount of state legislation and policy directed at limiting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions at landfills, recycling organics and specifically siting AD facilities at existing solid waste management facilities. “These state-directed initiatives, such as the Anaerobic Digestion Statewide Programmatic Environmental Impact Report, made this decision easier to make,” Johnston shared.

The proposed project first became part of community discussion in 2002, and in 2008, a formal RFQ took place to examine the technologies that were available for use as alternatives to landfilling. According to Johnston, the resulting feasibility report gave the project all the support it needed to develop an RFP which was released in 2009. From 2010 to 2012, a review period took place, which ultimately resulted in the decision to implement a resource recovery project with its main components being the MRF and AD facility.

The MRF would have a design capacity of up to 800 tons per day of MSW or up to approximately 250,000 tons per year (up to 311 operating days annually). As much as 90,000 tons per year (290 tons per day) of recyclable material would be recovered and sold for reuse. The proposed 56,500 to 66,500 square-foot facility would sort MSW into recyclables, organics and residue.

The adjacent 63,600 square-foot AD facility would have a design capacity of processing up to 73,600 tons per year, made up of organics recovered from the MRF as well as other source separated organic wastes brought to the project site. The AD facility would use a dry AD process developed by the German Company BEKON. Their parent company EGGERSMANN also owns the KOMPOFERM technology used in AD facilities operational in San Jose, south San Francisco and Monterey. BEKON was part of the original proposal the county received in 2010, according to Johnston, and they have 22 operational facilities in Europe.

The biogas generated at the landfill will send power to the grid and a purchase agreement is already in place with Southern California Edison. The digestate from the AD process will be used as a compost and a soil amendment. “The goal is to have a marketable compost that has value,” Johnston said. “In our financial models, we are not counting on this material ever having any value, but this is a goal of ours.”

He added that the county knows the process of having a marketable compost will take time, but they’re hoping with the combined experience the county has in developing a mulch market (that is also processed at Tajiguas Landfill from collected green waste) and the compost marketing experience of BEKON’s parent company EGGERSMANN that they can get there. “We have no plans to landfill this material,” Johnston said. “We have identified a ranch to use as a demonstration facility for the first year of operation. As a further back up plan, the Public Works Department owns and operates agricultural land that would be able to use this material.”

Without implementing any sort of waste management solution, the landfill is estimated to have only 10 years left in its lifespan. However, with the implementation of the project, it’s estimated to extend the life of the landfill by a further 10 years. Ultimately, the project’s current diversion rate is projected at 72.3 percent, according to CalRecycle. If the project is able to meet its minimum goal of diverting an additional 60 percent of the currently landfilled material, the diversion rate would increase to 89 percent. After the project is up and running, current projections have around 75,000 to 85,000 tons of residue remaining landfilled. Johnston noted that this may change as the amount of waste generated by the population fluctuates.

As for financing, the project is publically bonded and backed by waste flow guarantees written into agreements between the county and the participating cities. The ultimate funding comes from the ratepayer who subscribes to trash service in the affected communities. Publically funding the project, instead of privately financing, will result in significant savings to rate payers, according to Johnston. We are seeing a reduction in tipping fee of over 20 percent by going this route, he said.

The total estimated project cost is $110.5 million, and during the first year, $13 million in operations, while $12 million in revenue is expected from the sale of recyclables, compost and energy as a result of the project.

As with most projects, there has been some pushback. Johnston said the most controversial issue is the location. “We often say in this business: There are no good places for a landfill," Johnston said. "Santa Barbara is a very environmentally conscience community and a very picturesque place to live. The Tajiguas Landfill is located on the Gaviota Coast, which is a beautiful stretch of mostly undeveloped California Coastline."

The Gaviota Coast Conservancy has been one of the most outspoken opponents of this project, he said, as they have a goal to remove all industrial uses of the Gaviota coastline and limit any development. Johnston awknowledged that this is an understandable goal, but the project developers of the resource recovery project make the point that the landfill is already in place and they should do what they can to environmentally mitigate the waste that is disposed there. "This project does that, by doing things like limiting future GHG impacts, but the trade-off is that is stays in operation at that location for a longer period of time," he said.

Locating an MRF closer to the urban core in the EIR was also considered, but was determined those locations would have “significant impact” as defined by the California Environmental Quality Act and were strongly opposed by the public. According to Johnston, this project adds much needed local waste management infrastructure. Currently, the closest MRFs are in Ventura and Santa Maria where recyclables are currently shipped for processing.

He added, “This project is crucial to achieving many state mandates related to GHG reduction, green energy and waste diversion goals. This project is already part of the Energy and Climate Action Plan for the county as well as the city of Santa Barbara’s Climate Action Plan in tackling GHG reduction locally.”

More information and updates on this project can be found here.