News and analysis about energy in California with an eye toward renewables.

SlurryCarb? Inland Empire Sewage-to-Biomass Plant In Deep Trouble

The EnerTech Rialto Facility. EnerTech photo

A plant that once won environmentalist acclaim for converting sewage sludge into renewable energy may be put up for auction if buyers don't come forward, according to a consultant working with the plant's owners to liquidate the facility. The plant was shut down by its owners this year after production problems caused local sanitary agencies to void their contracts.

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"They're out of business," Geoffrey Berman told Reuters. Berman, a vice president at the Los Angeles office of Development Specialists, is working with EnerTech to liquidate the company.

The Rialto Regional Biosolids Processing Facility was intended to turn sewage sludge from the Orange County Sanitary District (OCSD) and other local sanitary agencies into what EnerTech called "SlurryCarb," a biomass fuel to replace coal used by local cement kilns. When it launched the facility in 2008, EnerTech was flush with cash: the project received $4,050,000 from bonds issued by the California Statewide Communities Development Authority in 2007, along with an influx of capital from investors such as HDR, FILANC, North American Energy Services, Deutsche Bank, and Lehman Brothers.

EnerTech hyped the facility as being able to process more than 800 wet tons of sewage sludge a day into about 160 tons of dry biomass fuel. Production problems plagued the facility, however, and ratings agencies downgraded EnerTech's bond debt starting in September 2011. The facility was controversial in the Inland Empire, with critics maintaining that the OCSD was effectively subsidizing a failed plant unable to live up to its contractual obligations to process sludge. EnerTech stopped posting updates to the facility's web page in June 2009, which would seem to be about when things started going down the tubes for the facility. OCSD washed its hands of the business partnership in June 2012, its board voting to declare EnerTech in violation of their 2006 contract and to halt all sludge shipments to the Rialto facility.

EnerTech has not filed for bankruptcy.

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About the Author

Chris Clarke is a natural history writer and environmental journalist currently at work on a book about the Joshua tree. He lives in Joshua Tree.
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