A proposed biofuel pipeline that faced heavy public scrutiny will not move forward after the Barrio Logan Community Development Group unanimously voted against it earlier this month.
The pipeline, a project of New Leaf Biofuel, would connect the company’s warehouses and reduce truck traffic in the heavily polluted neighborhood of Barrio Logan. But residents don’t want New Leaf in their community to begin with and worried a pipeline would anchor it there.
New Leaf converts used cooking oil into biodiesel, which emits between 50 and 85 percent fewer emissions than traditional petroleum fuel. It operates all day, every day, and has since it opened in Barrio Logan more than a decade ago.
This isn’t the first time New Leaf has clashed with its neighbors: in November 2022, the San Diego County Air Pollution Control District ordered the company to begin smell abatement after residents complained of constant, vomit-like odor emitting from the factory as a byproduct of processing cooking oil.
“New Leaf has been able to expand and profit while residents continue to suffer,” said Nicholas Paúl, an air quality advocate with the Environmental Health Coalition.
New Leaf installed a carbon-activated air filtration system that mediated the smell.
The unanimous vote against New Leaf’s pipeline came as the mixed industrial and residential neighborhood strives to address its air pollution. Barrio Logan’s air scores in the 97th percentile for poor air quality, and asthma rates among residents are 95 percent higher than the rest of California.
Much of that pollution comes from traffic, both from the interstates that loom above the neighborhood and the diesel-fueled trucks that snake through the streets to factories and facilities like New Leaf’s. In addition to reducing the number of trips trucks make by introducing a pipeline, the company said it would have improved the streets during pipeline construction by adding sidewalks, curbs, and trees along its path.
Truck traffic has long been of concern to Barrio Logan, but the Port of San Diego is working to transition all its heavy-duty vehicles to zero emissions to mitigate pollution. By 2035, all vehicles operating in the area must be classified as zero-emission. To support that transition, beginning in 2024, all new trucks registered to transport containers and bulk to and from the ports and rail yards must be zero emissions vehicles.
This, of course, comes with its own infrastructure challenges.
“You need to think about this entire supply chain from the street to your vehicle and who owns what portion of that infrastructure,” said Patrick Couch, senior vice president of technical services at Gladstein, Neandross and Associates, at an April workshop hosted by the port to help industrial companies transition to electric vehicles. While San Diego Gas and Electric owns the grid, companies are responsible for building charging stations and any requisite battery packs or other infrastructure.
Couch recommended a holistic change in approach to fueling fleets of trucks.
“When you get to planning your infrastructure, one of the best ways to reduce or manage costs is to try to maximize the utilization of that infrastructure,” Couch said. “If you overbuild a lot of infrastructure, or you try to plan to charge your fleet all in one hour and you only have six or seven hours to do it, that’s going to create very expensive infrastructure.”
Electrical vehicles not only cost more than those powered by internal combustion, but they also cost more than double to power and maintain over twelve years. However, the state offers incentives that push projected costs down to the same as a diesel-powered truck, Couch said.
Similarly, a grant through the California Energy Commission’s Clean Transportation Program funded four public fast chargers near the Otay Mesa Port of Entry, which is the busiest commercial border crossing in California. They can fully charge a medium-duty electric box truck in two hours.
Energy officials say starting now is imperative to meeting infrastructure needs to make the switch, and that government funding helps shoulder some of the costs of that transition.
Of course, California’s electrical grid is already stretched thin. Last summer, record-setting heat prompted the state’s Office of Emergency Services to request that consumers conserve power as the grid groaned under extreme demand. The state did not experience blackouts, as some worried it would.
But, under state law, all energy must come from renewable sources by 2045. To this end, the state’s last nuclear plant will close in 2030. California is also moving to transition passenger vehicles to electric, requiring that 35 percent of new vehicles sold in 2026 are electric, ramping up to 100 percent in 2035. Electrifying vehicles will further demand on the grid: The state anticipates 12.5 million electric vehicles on the road in 2035.
The CEC says electric vehicles will represent only a fraction of the state’s total energy needs, though it anticipates the state will need to triple its energy production by 2045 to keep up with demand on the grid.