Biogas Debate Subject of Council Meeting


Most of Tuesday night’s meeting of the Glendale City Council was dedicated to a long, detailed and thorough discussion of plans to utilize gas produced by the Scholl Canyon landfill to produce electricity for the city. The council heard extensive comments from approximately 44 callers and, after midnight, voted narrowly (3-2) to approve plans to build a $58 million biogas plant expected to generate nearly 12 megawatts of “renewable” energy annually.

Councilmembers Ardy Kassakhian and Dan Brotman voted against the project.

“As in the ‘Princess Bride,’” Kassakhian explained, “you keep using ‘that word.’ I do not think it means what you think it means. It isn’t a fossil fuel, [and] it is far from renewable.”

In October, the city’s Planning Commission voted to deny the necessary conditional use permit (CPU). The city’s sustainability commission voted against it as well and the Glendale Water & Power (GWP) board voted in favor.

City Manager Roubik Golanian told the council that city staff believes “the project aligns with goals set by the council as we could generate electricity locally without the need for additional transmission and that it would help the city meet its renewable energy goals.”

Senior city planner Dennis Joe detailed plans for the plant, which sits on 535 acres. Emphasis was given on a 2.2-acre area, which is less than 1% of the total landfill, he emphasized. Plans call for two modular buildings, a 60,000-gallon water tank and 10,000-gallon water storage tank, four-engine generator enclosures, 40-foot flare stacks, a 384-square-foot power distribution center and retaining walls up to 23 feet.

Landfill gas (LFG) is required to be captured and processed, even after the landfill’s capacity is reached. The timeline for the proposed plant anticipates at least 20 years of methane gas, capable of generating 6 MW of electricity per year in 2044, Year 20.

GWP’s Mark Young emphasized this would be 12 MWs of local renewable energy from the LFG that is currently being flared (burned off), consistent with the Glendale Greener Plan, and compliant with evolving state regulations requiring the city to utilize 60% renewable energy by 2030.

“Unlike solar and wind, this would be 24/7/365 continuous energy production. Glendale is transmission-constrained and this 12 MW of renewable energy plays a critical role in GWP’s ability to meet future load needs,” Young told the council.

He noted that the Glenoaks neighborhood would be assured power in the event of a catastrophe or emergency.

Glendale Fire Dept. Chief Silvio Lanzas affirmed that the plans proposed, including additional safety measures contemplated, reduce the threat of wildfires. He also noted that flaring is more dangerous.

Jackie Gish presented the detailed findings of the Glenoaks Homeowners’ Association.

“It’s called ‘renewable,’ but I don’t think it is – we don’t believe it’s compatible with the city’s general plan, nor that it’s clean or safe or that it will produce 12 MWs,” she said. She said her group favors Alternative 1, continued flaring of the methane gas, as having “the least environmental risks.”

A representative of Los Angeles City Council member Kevin DeLeon called in to oppose the project and urged the council to consider the impacts of climate change on East LA; he advocated Alternative 2.

A 25-year Glendale resident spoke succinctly in support.

“I want reliable and environmentally friendly and safe power and, since we already burn the biogas from the Scholl Canyon landfill, let’s make electricity from it,” the resident said.

Young responded to some of the callers.

“Since 2020, 64% of our energy is clean, 39% of it renewable,” said Young. “Our neighbors can’t touch those numbers. So we are being progressive and trying to find a way to meet our energy needs in the most environmentally conscious way.”

When the final draft environmental review draft was released in July 2020, then newly-elected councilmember Brotman said, “From an environmental point of view, flaring is the worst way to deal with methane gas. Flaring causes pollution and releases emissions that contribute to global warming. Flaring is also wasteful because it literally burns up landfill gas that could be used to generate energy.” 

Councilmember Ara Najarian explained his considerations.

“There’s still going to be methane gas for years, for decades. This is available 24/7 and solves the problem of methane capture,” said Najarian. “The alternatives are more expensive, and we don’t have 535 acres for a solar energy plant.”

“I thank our colleagues on the Los Angeles City Council for chiming in on this,” Najarian added sarcastically, “but if you gave us a little more transmission, we’d be in great shape. This is what we’ve got to do to generate energy locally.”

Councilmember Brotman expressed his concerns about the future of the landfill and urged the council to specify its plans beyond the next few years until the landfill is full.

“The sanitation district is waiting on us and we have an obligation to develop a plan for closure and post-closure,” he said.

Councilmember Vrej Agajanian noted, “Without generation, methane is flared, producing the same pollution without any benefit. Since March 2018, we’ve been just flaring the gas. Biogas is a defined renewable source.”

Mayor Paula Devine cast the deciding vote.

“Our residents never cease to amaze me. This is controversial and we need to look at it holistically, for the benefit of the entire city, and not let the perfect be the enemy of the good. This is the definition of sustainability, to use this resource, and I will fight for a recreational facility once the landfill is closed.”

“We need this kind of reliability,” she added, “for when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine, we’re going to have power. The core value of our utility is resiliency. People depend on power. It can be a meter of life and death.”