The Watsonville Planning Commission unanimously approved at its meeting Thursday.
The company's CEO Jim Levine said they plan to hire at least seven local residents when the plant opens, which hopefully will be this fall.
Northstar Biofuels have been producing about 3,000 gallons of biodiesel per day at a test facility in Redwood City since July 2011. The future 19,000-square-foot Watsonville plant is expected to produce 65,000 gallons a day and put “the city on the map as far as renewable fuels," Levine said.
He also said he sees huge potential for growth.
“About 4 billion gallons of diesel are used in California every year,” he said. “Biodiesel could satisfy all the requirements in [AB32] California's greenhouse gas law.”
The fuel Northstar Biofuels produce—called “b-100”—is made more than 100 times faster than the processes used by their competitors. They will use a sealed system that will collect all waste products internally, and uses no water so they will be no runoff.
Planning Commissioner Karina Cervantez asked why there was not a full review of the proposed plant under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).
Planning Commission Acting Secretary Keith Boyle, said the review hadn't been completed, but explained that Watsonville has filed a “categorical exemption” from a CEQA review. He visited the Redwood City test facility and officials there confirmed that the plant creates no noise, air, or water pollution for neighbors.
Ninety-two percent of the animal fat they produce becomes bio-diesel. The rest comes out as glycerin which is sold to be make into soap and other products.
Agri Beef Co. in Idaho will provide the fat used for the bio-diesel. Rick Stott of Agri-Beef In the past the animal fats are sent to Mexico to make soap, and other products.
“[This allows us] to produce something with these products that are environmentally proactive," Stott said. "And it will be processed here in the U.S. It's a win-win all around.”
Other concerns discussed with the Planning Commission included the delivery and pick up by rail cars and trucks of the animal fats and finished product.
“Given that this is an industrial neighborhood with similar activity already going on I don't think anyone will even notice we are doing business,” said Levine.
The level of tax revenue to the city from the company is unclear at this point. Their amount of growth and how much of their product that is produced locally are two factors that will largely determine this, said Levine.