Long Beach trash plant keeps burning

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L.B. trash plant keeps burning SACRAMENTO

Like many other small-scale electricity suppliers, Long Beach, California is owed more than $5 million from Southern California Edison for power generated at its 35-megawatt trash-burning plant.

But unlike many of its counterparts, widely blamed for two days of rolling blackouts, the Long Beach plant stayed on line Monday and Tuesday, turning tons of refuse into enough electricity to keep the lights on in 30,000 homes.

Enough small providers were offline this week either for repairs or because they couldn't pay their bills to put a dent in California's strained supply.

But blaming those companies for blackouts is not totally fair, lawmakers said Tuesday, noting that an even bigger share of unscheduled outages occurred in large commercial plants.

Many small providers have big problems, because while the state is paying large generating firms, the small companies are locked into contracts with utilities that aren't paying their bills.

Long Beach has filed a lawsuit against SCE, demanding about $5 million in back payments. The city's plant hasn't received payment for energy produced after October. And that debt grows more than $1 million per month.

The Long Beach City Attorney was pessimistic about the suit's chances.

"Realistically, we are perceived as just one of many, many (providers) who just basically have to get in line."

The Long Beach plant's manager, said he can't stop making power even though he hasn't been paid, and he's had to pay a premium for the natural gas he uses to keep his boilers hot when garbage is soaked from rain.

"Our primary purpose here is, yes, to generate electricity. "But we also have a solid waste issue. If we just shut down, then all our customers would have to look for landfill space."

The plant burns trash from Long Beach, Lakewood, and dozens of private trash-hauling companies.

-- PHO (owennos@bigfoot.com), March 21, 2001

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