PITTSBURG -- In terms of a kinship spirit, a solar power facility and a recycling center as neighbors seems as natural as two organic peas in a pod.
But not if you ask Concord-based Garaventa Enterprises, which operates the Mount Diablo Recycling Center in Pittsburg. It's right next to where a developer wants to build the solar project on a former industrial wasteland parcel that was cleaned up. Once operational, the project would sell electricity to Pacific Gas & Electric Co. to meet the power needs of about 6,000 single-family homes in its service area.
Garaventa Enterprises, which through various subsidiaries also provides garbage service in Pittsburg and other East County cities, threw a monkey wrench into those plans when it submitted a last-minute letter raising substantial environmental questions about the proposal just two hours before the City Council was to consider the matter at its April 8 meeting.
The Planning Commission had recommended approval of the project by a 7-0 vote at its March 12 meeting. The last-minute letter left the council with no choice but to continue the matter to its April 15 meeting.
The letter was sent by an environmental consulting firm on behalf of Contra Costa Waste Services, a Garaventa subsidiary that operates the recycling center. Representatives of Garaventa Enterprises did not return phone calls seeking comment as to the timing of the letter.
Kevin Johnson, project manager for the solar power project, did not see the letter coming.
"We we're surprised that the letter was issued, certainly at the last minute. We think we could be good neighbors," Johnson said, adding no other businesses or residents living near the site where the solar project would be built have raised concerns.
"We think it's a good project and good for Pittsburg," he said. "We hope the council will act in our favor and approve it."
Columbia Solar Energy, a subsidiary of New York-based LS Power, wants to build the 20-megawatt solar panel power facility on a 115-acre parcel it is leasing from USS-Posco Industries. The parcel was once used as a landfill for steel mill waste before it went through an extensive cleanup process several years ago under the direction of the state Department of Toxic Substances. The project developer has also agreed to make improvements to the part of the California Delta Trail that is next to the property. The electricity the project generates would be sold to PG&E to help the utility meet a state mandate that calls for investor-owned utilities to have 33 percent of their energy portfolios from renewable resources by 2020.
The city did not require the project developer to prepare an environmental impact report as part of the approval process. Instead, a mitigated negative declaration was prepared, which according to Contra Costa Waste Services, does not go far enough to address potential environmental issues such as the visual impacts from solar panels and 90-foot tall transmission lines.
The "proposed project will have a number of significant environmental impacts, which have not been adequately addressed in the draft MND," the letter said.
Planning Commission chairman A.J. Fardella said the negative declaration was "very thorough" and that no one spoke against the project when it was before the commission in March.
"I'm thrilled about the project. This is the kind of renewable energy we need to see all over the country," he said. "They are making use of land that was polluted and part of a toxic waste cleanup."
Contact Eve Mitchell at 925-779-7189. Follow her on Twitter.com/EastCounty_Girl.