Thursday, October 6, 2011
John Ramirez is talking trash about Plasco Energy Group’s communication – or lack thereof – for a proposed garbage gasification facility at the Johnson Canyon Landfill in Gonzales. The plant converts garbage to fuel by heating it, and returns the resulting “syngas” to the electric grid.
Ramirez’s opinion carries weight: As director of the county’s Environmental Health office, he plays a critical role evaluating the project’s environmental impacts.
He says he’s asked Plasco officials for specific performance statistics from the company’s pilot plant in Ottawa, the company’s only other gasification facility, to no avail. “I haven’t seen all the information my staff needs about this project,” Ramirez says. “We get calls from the public wanting to know what’s going on, and I can’t provide them with any information.”
Alisdair McLean, Plasco’s vice president of business development, says he’s confused by Ramirez’s claims: “All the information he wants is public knowledge.”
A report on Plasco’s website, zerowasteottawa.com, provides details on the Canadian plant’s technology, emissions and glitches. Plasco’s local public-relations reps have provided materials explaining gasification and its potential to provide a greener alternative to incineration and landfills.
What the handouts don’t mention: During the Canadian pilot plant’s three – year trial run, Plasco reported 13 spills and 29 instances in which the emissions exceeded federal limits.
McLean says it’s fair for the public to question plant safety and reliability. However, he adds, “Those are questions which we’ve answered to the satisfaction of the investors.” Plasco has raised over $200 million in equity to date.
Members of South County Latino advocacy group Asemblea de Poder Popular had until this week refused to meet with company reps, and Gonzales residents regularly protest the project at meetings of the Salinas Valley Solid Waste Authority, which in January chose Plasco to overhaul the Johnson Canyon site.
Last month, SVSWA selected San Francisco-based Environmental Science Associates to conduct the environmental review of Plasco’s plans for Gonzales – an 18-month, $600,000-plus process funded by Plasco. Canadian authorities will decide Oct. 24 whether to green-light the Ottawa plant for permanent operation.