Food-scraps-to-energy plant slated for Moreno Valley

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Another land use controversy has arisen in Lakeside, this time in the Moreno Valley.

The scenario has a familiar feel: the BioGas Corporation wants to build a food-scraps-to-energy plant on Highway 67 as part of a mandate to increase renewable energy sources the county. The community is against the idea and has lined up to oppose the plan.

Another land use controversy has arisen in Lakeside, this time in the Moreno Valley.

The scenario has a familiar feel: the BioGas Corporation wants to build a food-scraps-to-energy plant on Highway 67 as part of a mandate to increase renewable energy sources the county. The community is against the idea and has lined up to oppose the plan.

On Thursday evening, July 19, the two sides met at an open house hosted by BioGas at the Lakeside Community Center. A lively discussion ensued between several dozen residents and six members of a consulting team hired by BioGas (no BioGas employees were present).

The BioGas reps were full of information and seemed very accommodating and even sympathetic to the residents and their concerns. The residents themselves were firm but respectful. It was a relatively calm meeting, especially compared to recent newsworthy conflicts. That is not to say the residents backed down or gave in, though – they are as committed as ever to keeping the renewable energy plant out of their community.

The BioGas Corporation develops anaerobic digester projects in the United States. Simply put, they create energy from food waste, using proven technology that is safe and efficient – and used throughout the world. They plan to build a plant on land they have leased on the east side of Highway 67, between Johnson Lake and Vigilante Roads. The site is currently zoned for outdoor material and equipment storage and could be used by BioGas with a Major Use Permit. They want to be open by 2020.

The food-scraps-to-energy plant will help to meet regional needs and requirements by diverting food waste from landfills and creating energy from renewable sources.

The process of anaerobic digestion is described as being very much like human digestion, using the same microbes as in our bodies to naturally break down food. The closed system generates a biogas in the form of methane, which will be captured and used to generate power. This power will serve the regional power grid (i.e., San Diego Gas and Electric).

Food scraps will be trucked to the site and either pumped into the system or unloaded in an enclosed facility on site. This method reduces odors and emissions and keeps the procedure out of sight.

The BioGas plan calls for 12 employees operating the plant daily from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. They estimate about productivity at three megawatts a day. A fire plan has already been submitted to the county fire marshal and is under review. The Board of Supervisors will have the final say on the project.

Residents voiced opposition on a number of grounds, including increased traffic and safety issues, air quality and the impact on the valley’s livestock, especially the numerous horses owned in the area.

The biggest concern had to do with the reported estimate of 31 trucks a day traveling to and from the plant. On a highway already considered overcrowded by most, the addition of so much more traffic feels unreasonable to many residents who have to deal with the traffic as part of their lives.

BioGas has laid out a strict path for its deliveries, but that only exacerbated the concerns. The trucks would enter from the south and exit north on Highway 67 (a planned signal light to control traffic has already been nixed by Caltrans). Exiting trucks will turn onto Vigilante Road to travel south on Moreno Avenue, reconnecting with the highway at Willow Road. This has valley residents fuming.

Several residents immediately pointed out the 7000-pound load limit on Moreno Avenue, as well as the “No Sand Truck Traffic” signs.

The consultants seemed unfamiliar and surprised with these facts but promised to take the information back to BioGas.

Another resident voiced concern with the impact on her house and driveway. Currently, many big trucks use her private drive as a turnaround, which has caused damage and sand buildup to her property.

Debbie Langston, a resident of the area for more than 20 years, made her point early and succinctly.

“We don’t want you in our neighborhood,” she said, “But we like the idea.”

Her view was shared by many in the crowd.

“I love the project, it’s a great idea, but the location is bad,” said Langston, after the open house had officially concluded. “There are too many problems: the traffic will get worse and what guarantees do we have about emissions and smells? And water – we are all on well water out there. How is that (plant) going to affect our water?”

Another issue for Langston is the structure itself.

“It’s going to be the highest building in the valley, so we’ll all see it.”

This will not be the last chance to comment on this project. BioGas is still in the environmental review process. The corporation has a comprehensive website at www.foodscraps2energy.com. You can read up on theprocess and plan, as well as send comments and concerns that the company has promised to take into consideration. BioGas can also be reached at (619) 627-1214.

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