AT the Southeast Resource Recovery Facility (SERRF), 1,380 tons of municipal waste are turned into power every day. Now, over 30 years after SERRF first started operations in July 1988, key parts of the power production plant are undergoing a $13.7 million renovation. “It’s been maintained fine, but after so long, it’s like a car: you have to go in and replace major pieces of equipment,” Charlie Tripp, manager of the facility, told the Business Journal. SERRF was initially designed to run until December 2018, when the bonds for its construction had been paid off and a long-term power purchasing contract with Southern California Edison ran out.
Rather than retire the facility, the City of Long Beach and SERRF operator Covanta Energy decided to rejuvenate it. “For the last five years, we had been looking at other options: was there a technology out there that we could replace SERRF with? And we really couldn’t find anything,” Tripp said. “The fact is that this technology, as long as it’s maintained – and we have added additional pollution control equipment over the years as regulations changed – was still viable.”
The concept of turning waste into energy through combustion originated in Europe. “In Europe, they’ve been burning trash for over a hundred years, primarily because they didn’t have fossil fuels,” Tripp explained. “Most of the waste in Europe isn’t landfilled, it’s actually burned.” In California, energy had traditionally been produced using hydropower technology or fossil fuels, according to Tripp. But gas and oil crises in the 1970s and 1980s lead to legislation that promoted the diversification of the country’s power sources, giving way to more alternative energy production. SERRF was one of over 100 alternative power plants across the nation to be built during that time, Tripp noted.
Inside the facility, trash from black bins collected by waste-hauling companies is burned in combustors. The heat created by the burning waste is used to boil water, creating steam pressure, which transmits the power through a turbine. “If you blow onto a pinwheel, it spins. Same thing happens when you inject steam into this turbine, it spins, and the back of the turbine is attached to a generator,” Tripp explained. “The generator is what gives us power and pumps the power to your home, my home, everyone’s.”