News

Palo Alto struggles to give voters reliable data

Crucial questions will remain unanswered when voters consider 'undedication' of parkland

Palo Alto voters will be asked to wrestle with incomplete and possible contradictory data in November when they hit the voting booths to consider whether the city should be allowed to build a waste-to-energy plant on parkland in the Baylands.

The anaerobic digestion plant, which would process local yard trimmings and food waste and convert them into electricity, has become a topic of fierce debate between environmentalists who say the city should take care of its own waste and conservationists who argue that public parkland is no place for a new waste facility. Members of the City Council acknowledged Monday that a lack of conclusive information about the plant's potential costs will make the voters' decision particularly challenging and susceptible to the clashing arguments from the two green camps.

Public Works staff and consultants have been scrambling in recent months to gather information about the projected costs of the new plant, which would occupy a roughly 9-acre site in Byxbee Park. They have already provided projections on how much the city would have to pay if it were to build a local plant and if it were to export its food scraps and yard waste to San Jose and Gilroy, respectively.

But given the complexity of the topic, the inherent uncertainty of adopting new technology and the deep split both on the council and in the community, each answer has only spawned further questions and requests for more analysis. Despite months of crunching numbers and researching other facilities, Palo Alto officials are no closer than they were a year ago to figuring out what to do when the city's existing landfill closes this summer, bringing the city's composting operation to an end.

Some of the most crucial questions are far too broad and complicated to be answered before the November election, staff said Monday. These include a suggestion to process sewage waste and food scraps together in a "wet anaerobic digester"; a proposal to integrate the compost study with the city's ongoing analysis of the Regional Water Quality Control Plant; and consideration of composting technologies other than anaerobic digestion.

The shortage of information means voters will have to rely on partial analyses, campaign literature and their own instincts when they step inside the voting booths in November, council members said.

Public Works staff and the consulting firm Alternatives Resources, Inc., (ARI) have been fielding comments from both sides of the debate since late January, when the city released the preliminary cost estimates for the proposed facility. The estimates compare the per-ton cost of keeping waste operations local and shipping yard waste and food scraps to Gilroy and San Jose, respectively.

Early results indicate that building a local facility would be substantially more expensive than shipping it elsewhere in the short term. The difference, however, would narrow over time.

Proponents of a local plant, including former Mayor Peter Drekmeier, are asking the consultants to modify their analysis to include such things as "carbon adders" (putting a price on carbon emissions) and the costs of replacing the city's sewage-burning incinerators. Drekmeier is also lobbying the city to consider a wet anaerobic digester that would process both food waste and sewage sludge. Such a facility, he argues, would allow the city to retire its polluting incinerators -- a source of shame for the notoriously green community.

Others have urged the consultant to consider the rent value of the land, the costs of mitigating the new plant's potential environmental impact and "contingency" costs for the exporting options.

"It's getting a little politicized -- some people want higher rent, some want carbon adders," Councilman Greg Scharff said Monday. "What I want to see is real numbers that allow us to look at this in a thoughtful manner."

Some of these questions will be at least partially answered in June, when staff returns with additional information about such things as carbon adders, land-rent value and the potential for replacing the incinerators with a wet anaerobic digester. Others, however, will remain unanswered even by November, said Phil Bobel, the city's manager for environmental compliance.

"It's just too late to get started on new options, either at the (water quality control) plant or the 9-acre site," Bobel said.

Drekmeier's group last month submitted more than enough signatures to put the land-use issue -- whether or not to "undedicate" the parkland and make it eligible for a new plant -- on the November ballot. The council and staff concluded on Monday night that this does not give the city enough time to answer all the major questions about the proposed facility.

"We have to live in the real world and the information the public will have will be what it is," Councilman Larry Klein said. "Frequently, the public is asked to vote on things without having 100 percent of the information."

Despite this limitation, Klein said he believes the public will be able to "vote knowledgeably and intelligently -- as Palo Alto voters normally do."

Mayor Sid Espinosa said at the end of Monday's discussion that even after staff comes back with more information in June, neither the council nor the community would likely have all the information they need to make a decision on the highly divisive topic.

"I suspect we'll end up in a place where whatever limited information we have -- the proponent and opponent side will tweak it to their benefit and will say if its financially feasible or not," Espinosa said.

Councilwoman Karen Holman called the lack of definitive information "an unfortunate situation." She joined Espinosa and Klein in voting to direct staff to come back with more information, and a "manageable list of scenarios," in June.

"The voters need as good information as we can provide," Holman said.

Councilman Greg Schmid, the sole dissenter in the council's 7-1 vote (Pat Burt was absent), continued to call for staff to consider other technologies besides anaerobic digestion. He pointed to other communities, including Santa Barbara and Salinas, which are struggling with similar problems and which are considering "plasma arc gasification" -- a process that uses intense heat to convert waste into energy.

"I think the issue is not around the difference between adding a carbon adder or grant or rent," Schmid said. "It's really the basic question, 'Are we making investment in the right technology in the right place?'"

While the November ballot measure would make the land available for a composting facility, it does not specify which technology the city should use. Scharff pointed out that the council will have plenty of time, even after the election, to examine its waste-management options fully before making its final decision.

"My sense is that when we go to the voters, if they choose not to undedicate, the discussion ends," Scharff said. "If they do, that's the beginning of the discussion, frankly."

But some, including Emily Renzel, think the city has already done more than enough analysis. Renzel, a leading opponent of the new plant, argued Monday that existing data clearly shows that the proposed plant would not be financially feasible when compared with the export options. The new facility, she claimed, would lead to years of steep rate increases to residents' garbage bills.

"You can have ARI tinker with a lot of numbers, but unless they are REAL numbers, sooner or later Refuse Rate payers will have to pay the difference," Renzel wrote in a letter to the council, which she read Monday night.

Comments

Posted by Just-Vote-No, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 13, 2011 at 8:42 am

The answer is simple: Just Vote No!


Posted by Aaaaargh. Why is this on the ballot now?, a resident of South of Midtown
on Apr 13, 2011 at 10:56 am

The complexity of this issue is exactly why it should NOT be on the ballot. It should be decided by elected representatives who have committed to study issues in detail on our behalf. The average voter doesn't have the bandwidth to give this issue the thoughtful, detailed analysis it deserves.

It will have huge implications for budget and the environment. Council should decide this. -- except for the question of designated park land use which is required to go to voters and should be decided AFTER Council makes a decision about viability and costs of the anaerobic digester technology. Just vote no...for now.


Posted by svatoid, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Apr 13, 2011 at 11:00 am

" It should be decided by elected representatives who have committed to study issues in detail on our behalf. "

Not in Palo Alto, our city council is afraid to make any kind of decision that will "upset" the voters. They like to pass the buck onto the voters. Then when the facts come out, they claim they did not know or were misled etc.
Our city council governs with their tail between their legs.

Anyway, all I need to know is that Peter Drekmeier is behind the plan to undedicate the 10 acres so I will be voting "no".


Posted by Joel, a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 13, 2011 at 1:35 pm

Joel is a registered user.

At a cost of approximately $300,000 for a special off year election; we are asked to vote for ten acres of land that may or may not be used for
industrial uses next to a promised dedicated park land. What a waste of tax payers money before a full vetting of the compost issue. I originally supported a closer regional approach to the issue which would share in the cost and find an inland area for placement. We should try to correct the mistakes of our forefathers and reduce the industries that pollute our waters and wetlands. I vote NO!


Posted by neighbor, a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 13, 2011 at 2:41 pm

I think we should vote no and turn it into a huge enclosed dog park so you can walk your dog off leash and contained in a large area. That is what we really need!


Posted by svatoid, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Apr 13, 2011 at 2:54 pm

As many of us realize, some people, including the leaders of this initiative have no concept of money or how hard it is to earn. So spending $300K dollars on a special election, instead of having the vote as a package deal (undedication of the parkland on one ballot and type of recycling system on another) in one election is no big deal to them.


Posted by Tom Jordan, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 13, 2011 at 4:27 pm

The City Council is, indeed, trying to provide good information to the voters before the 11/11 public vote, but the Council will fail because the AD Plant proponents have set their schedule for it to fail-- and it is THEIR schedule, not the City's, because they had full control as to when to start circulating their petition. Actually, there was no need for a citizens' Initiative at all, because the Council by majority vote could have put this on the ballot themselves when the Council was ready to do so.The Proponets schedule was set to (a) get their petition signatures in hand before any results from the $250,000 City Study were completed, (b) to go to the 11/11 public vote BEFORE the final results from the $250,000 City Study were known and before the State law requiring an EIR study of the proposal is even begun. The Proponents claims of significant GHG reductions and of the City actually making money by following their proposal, which claims they used broadly to GET their signatures, have been shown to be false by the Preliminary Report of the City Study. But they got their signatures BEFORE the Preliminary Report was explained to the public in late February,.

The proponents had stated that they would not file their signatures to force the $300,000+ election if the Preliminary Report showed their proposal to be not feasible. Well, the Preliminary Report showed that the Proponents best case will cost the City $20M MORE over 20 years (it should have shown $36M more over 20 years but the Preliminary Study charged their proposal with only 1/9 of the actual rent the City is getting on those exact same acres right now) than the current method of disposal and the GHG savings from THEIR treatment of dealing with yard clippings and food scraps reduced GHG by only about 40% of what they claimed the GHG reductions would be when they were gathering the signatures on their petition. To the logical mind that would seem to be a showing that the proposal is NOT FEASIBLE, BUT THEY FILED SIGNATURES ANYWAY TO FORCE THE $300,000+ ELECTION.

Last Spring and early Summer the Proponents tried to get the major local environmental groups to endorse their premature circulation of their petition, AND NOT A ONE WOULD DO SO. But they started their petition around anyway.

The issue of how a city disposes of its waste is clearly an engineering and municipal finance issue. It should NOT be decided by a public relations campaign based on exaggerated claims, which exaggerated claims have now been proven to be false. The proponents have tried to make this a preliminary school class election. They should be humored no further by either the City Council or the public.


Posted by NIMBY-maybe, a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 13, 2011 at 8:04 pm

Gee, maybe it was not such a good idea to hurry up and fill the dump early and make this a more urgent problem.

A park is a park is a park. They aren't making any more land around here, and we shouldn't give up one square foot of it. If there must be a waste plant, let's put it up in the foothills, where they've been missing out on their share of public works.


Posted by Kirk Fry, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 13, 2011 at 8:15 pm

Numbers like $100,000,000 for a multi building industrial complex are nuts. Just say NO!!!


Posted by Cedric de La Beaujardiere, a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 14, 2011 at 1:14 am

Cedric de La Beaujardiere is a registered user.

Anaerobic Digestion is likely to save rate-payers $22 million to $57 million over 30 years
According to the study's preliminary findings and confirmed by the consultant to Council, public-financing of local Anaerobic Digestion (AD) would save $4 to $9 million over 20 years, compared to the studied alternatives. That's an average savings of $300,000/year, (which easily pays for the special election).

The consultant also acknowledged that the study missed (and will include in June's update) several of the alternatives' costs, including:
- replacing the sewage incinerator at the end of its life ("tens of millions of dollars"),
- pricing greenhouse-gas emissions (typically $20/ton to $60/ton), or
- valuing carbon offset (currently worth about $20/ton), and
- applying a contingency (price uncertainty-factor) as was done for the local option.

Applying very conservative estimates of these costs indicates that the publicly-financed local AD option will save the city and rate-payers $30 to $38 million over 20 years, for an average savings of $1.5 to $2 million each year.
Our annual savings would greatly increase in subsequent years because the capital construction and financing costs would be paid off. For instance, the cost of processing our organic waste would drop from $106/ton in year 20 to $65/ton in year 21. Compare that to more than $118/ton to truck our waste "away" and continue our sewage incineration.
As a result, the total 30-year savings are between $22 to $57 million. (Incidentally, even without adding these conservative costs to the alternatives, local AD still saves $18 to $24 million over 30 years).

Rent is a discretionary decision of the Council, and the study already includes $100,000 in rent. If Emily and Tom want to charge the facility millions more in rent, let them explain that to the rate-payers.

The study indicates that, compared to the alternatives, the local AD option would reduce our CO2 emissions by 12,000 tons annually, equivalent to taking 1,600 cars off the road. Anaerobic digestion's total reductions from current practices would be about 20,000 tons annually. With anaerobic digestion we could make tremendous progress toward achieving our climate-protection goals while saving tens of millions of dollars.

Vote Yes on the Palo Alto Green Energy Initiative, to save money and be an environmental steward.


Posted by svatoid, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Apr 14, 2011 at 6:44 am

"Anaerobic Digestion is likely to save rate-payers $22 million to $57 million over 30 years"
The key word in that sentence is "likely"--probably those numbers are based on creative math and a desire of the supporters of this pipe dream to make the idea look attractive. As we know by now, some people involved in this scheme have no concept of money and filter everything through their green glasses (if it is green it is good they say).
Remember how much the "zero waste" campaign is going to end up costing us.
So one could also say that that anaerobic digestion may cost us $20-57 million over the next twenty years, unless Cedric is willing to cover it.
Based on the creative bookkeeping and the people involved, vote no.


Posted by Tom Jordan, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 14, 2011 at 7:45 am

I recommend that interested citizens save these specific claims of "benefits" of the proposed AD Plant (see the post from Barron Park above) and compare them (a) to their own reading of the findings of the Preliminary Report which can be found on the City Website and (b) the further findings of the City's $250,000 Study which are promised for June. It is not necessary to understand the complicated matter to its full depth. There are short summaries which can tell you what you need to know.

My main point is to compare what the Proponents "claim" with your own reading of the Study results. In particular, if you signed the Initiative Petition, compare what you were told then with what the $250,000 City Study shows now. Did the Petition Carrier tell you accurate facts? The AD Plant proponents were the ones who wanted the City $250,000 Study, which the Council approved by a 5-4 vote in 4/10, going against the express recommendation of its own Staff to do nothing more on the matter. Now that the results of the City $250,000 Study are coming in, the Proponents are doing everything they can to have it altered and re-done because the results show that they are wrong.

In matters of public policy, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but they are not entitled to their own facts. Read what the Proponents are saying, then read the Study data. The proponents have consistently exaggerated the benefits of their proposal, and these exaggerations will be revealed IF, but only if, the citizens will read the results of the Study and use their own common sense. The Proponents will lead the City into a huge costly financial disaster, if the citizens do not protect themselves.

One particular caution: Ignore the comments of the Proponents re the Incinerator at the RWQCP (the sewage treatment plant). What should be done there is being handled in a separate study due to be finished in mid 2012. There is no opposition to that RWQCP Study or what it will recommend. 2/3 or more of the GHG savings will come from implementing the results of that study and the cost will be shared among PA, EPA, Mt View, Los Altos and LAH, all of which send effluent to the plant. Having failed to show significant benefits from their own proposal re the handling of yard clippings and food scraps, the AD Plant proponents are trying to claim the credit and benefit of the project to handle the biosolids (the end product of the sewage treatment process) that would be happening had they never been born. Updated improvements at the RWQCP are Good. An expensive ($50M and more) AD Plant in the Park is Bad. Their attempts to confuse on this simple basic point should indicate how desperate they are.

Watch the news on how high your garbage rates are going this Fall and in future years. PA already has the second highest garbage rates in the entire Bay Area, and they are still climbing. You can thank the AD Plant proponents and the departed Director of Public Works for that.


Posted by Emily Renzel, a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 14, 2011 at 8:13 am

The election will be about undedicating 10.1 acres of Byxbee Park. Proponents are now backpedaling about all their digestion facilities and are saying "It's just to provide an option..just in case an industrial organics facility becomes feasible" Undedication of parkland removes all park protections. It is a serious action and should not be done without knowing exactly what can happen. The cart is before the horse here and voters are being asked to vote for a Pig in a Poke. Vote NO on the Initiative and if you want to help defeat it, please contact me.


Posted by common sense, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 14, 2011 at 8:49 am

With the current information available, I plan on voting NO.

Too often Palo Alto has voted on proposals based on ideology, rather than fiscal facts:

1) what are the capital costs involved, and what will be the cost of the bonds needed?

2) what are the operational costs, and how much will our utility bills rise? I want to see the same accounting that would be used that would determine our utility rates; forget about all this hand waving stuff about "carbon adders", etc.

3) who will be held responsible if these above cost estimates are exceeded?

I hate to see another vote like the High Speed Rail bond.


Posted by former PW Director, a resident of another community
on Apr 14, 2011 at 9:53 am

To Tom Jordan:

My dearest Tom - Thanks ever so much for your heartfelt attempts to give me singular personal credit for the current state of the refuse rates in Palo Alto. I know how you have long held me in respect and often given me praise and credit over the years of our close personal relationship, but I simply cannot accept your undeserved praise in this case. I must share the credit where it is due.

There are two significant factors contributory to the current refuse rate increases. The first is the accumulation of legacy costs from long term contracts for refuse processing at the SMaRT station in Sunnyvale and waste disposal at Kirby Canyon in San Jose. Those contracts were actually approved in 1989, 4 years before my arrival in 1993. Interestingly enough my predecessor, then PW Director Dave Adams, actually recommended against the contracts but they were advocated by the then City Manager and approved by the then Council.

The second factor is the cost of the Zero Waste program and the subsequent economic decline. It is true that the ZW program has resulted in refuse rate increases. In fact, when it was advocated by the then Council circa 2003, staff told Council that it would result in an approximate 45% rate increase based on then current tonnage levels. Council accepted that increase as a necessary cost of accomplishing their desired environmental goals. The "Great Recession" and resultant decline in business activity, waste generation, and refuse revenues have now spread the fixed costs of the program over a smaller base of cost allocation.

So, you see how I cannot accept your unwarranted attribution of sole credit. I am certain that this note on my part will engender continued loquacious and verbose comments from you as has long been the case, but simply had to try and share the credit for your what I am sure were heartfelt "Thanks".

I look forward to continuing our longstanding relationship of mutual respect over the years to come!

Regards,
former PW Director.


Posted by Cedric de La Beaujardiere, a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 14, 2011 at 10:06 am

Cedric de La Beaujardiere is a registered user.

Yes, do read the study yourselves. But look at total costs over 20-years, not just the year one cost. As the financing is paid off, the project becomes more affordable. You'd come to opposite conclusions if you looked at only year 1 or only year 20, so you need to look at total costs over 20 or 30 years. The study's Preliminary Cost Analysis Summary (Web Link) contains the 1st, 2nd, and 4th columns of my table below. I extended the numbers 10 years to get the year-21 costs and total-30-year costs (3rd and 5th columns). The data below is WITHOUT any cost adders:

Single year costs per ton .........| Total costs over........................|
YEAR-1 | YEAR-20 | YEAR-21 | 20-YEARS ..... | 30-YEARS ..... | PROJECT/FINANCING OPTION
.$ 72 .....| $118 ......| $121 .........| $76 million ....| $107 million ..| Incinerate sewage, Truck yard to Gilroy, food to SJ DAD
.$ 68 .....| $111 ......| $114 .........| $71 million ....| $101 million ..| Incinerate sewage, Truck yard & food to Gilroy
$112 .....| $106 ......| $106 .........| $91 million ....| $106 million ..| Dry AD: private financing/private operation
.$ 81 .....|. $ 81 .......|. $ 81 .........| $67 million ....| $82 million ....| Dry AD: public financing/private operation
.$ 62 .....|. $ 65 .......|. $ 65 .........| $52 million ....| $67 million ....| Dry AD: City receives 30% in grants worth $12M

Staff said at Monday's meeting that 20% grants are likely to be available.

But the incinerator has 10 years of life left. A Fluidized Bed Incinerator will cost in the "tens of millions of dollars", so I picked the lowest increment of that, $20M. Wet AD to replace sewage incineration would be one of the solutions we are recommending, but to include food to get more energy, and to compost the digestate with yard waste to get compost. If we just digest sewage without composting, we'd have to pay $1M/year to dispose of it. So using 10 acres of the former landfill is a smart use of land to save millions.

If you ONLY add a conservative but very real and undeniable cost of enabling the incinerator to keep running beyond its remaining 10 years of life, the 20-year and 30-year lifetime numbers look like this:

Total costs over:
20-YEARS .| 30-YEARS ....| PROJECT/FINANCING OPTION
$97 million | $128 million | Incinerate sewage, Truck yard to Gilroy, food to SJ DAD
$93 million | $122 million | Incinerate sewage, Truck yard & food to Gilroy
$91 million | $106 million | Dry AD: private financing/private operation
$67 million |.. $82 million | Dry AD: public financing/private operation
$52 million |.. $67 million | Dry AD: City receives 30% in grants worth $12M



Posted by Just-Say-No, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 14, 2011 at 7:45 pm

> Gee, maybe it was not such a good idea to hurry up and
> fill the dump early

There maybe more than one reason why this decision was made. It's against the law for a landfill to be closer than five miles from an airport. Here in Palo Alto, it's barely five feet from the airport. The City (mostly Larry Klein) has been pressing to take over operations of the airport, which means that the sooner the landfill is shutdown, that's one less legal problem to deal with.

As long as there are people trying to get the City to take on this massive pig-in-a-poke, it's not clear that they will be telling the truth about all of their decisions concerning this landfill.


Posted by Cedric de La Beaujardiere, a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 15, 2011 at 10:20 am

Cedric de La Beaujardiere is a registered user.

I highly doubt the proximity to the airport was a factor. The time frame for landfill closer was shorter than any likely time frame for taking over responsibility for the airport.

Staff informed Council that it was costing them more money to keep the landfill open through these deliberations on the use of the land, than to let the landfill quickly reach its fill limit, close it, and if necessary later excavate it a bit. All departments are faced with tight budgets, so I am confident that they are motivated to choose paths that will be cost effective for both short and long terms.


Posted by Just-Say-No, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 15, 2011 at 10:36 am

> I highly doubt the proximity to the airport was a factor.

You're welcome to your own opinion, but no matter how imperiously you deliver it as "fact", it's still just an opinion.

Hopefully, the opinions of the Palo Alto voters will merge together in November to become a "fact"--that this idea was halted by the majority of the voters.


Posted by Cedric de La Beaujardiere, a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 15, 2011 at 12:25 pm

Cedric de La Beaujardiere is a registered user.

I'm just passing on what I heard staff say to Council, and the time frames I've heard for the city. plus the fact that the landfill and airport have coincided peacefully for half a century, I'm sure any proximity issues are grandfathered in.


Posted by Enid Pearson, a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 15, 2011 at 1:09 pm

Re Cedric's numbers: This is what we have learned. (1) The Dry AD that Cedric is using - is modeled after the Harvest Co. facility. Harvest wrote a letter to the Council stating that they could not do this process without additional processes and money. We should not even be looking at this particular process. (2)Cedric has used numbers that include the RWQCP's incinerator with the present process being continued. The long-range plans for the RWQCP include discontinuing the incineration and using newer ways of handling the biosolids. The process will be on the RWQCP's own site, not park land and will go ahead regardless of whether AD happens or not. (3) The real costs for the present system are then $58 and $52, not the higher numbers Cedric uses.
(3) The consultant stated that no body wants to fund these kind of projects for more than 20 years. 30 years is far too vague and subject to unexpected and aging maintenance problems.
(4) The consultant also said that most grants (if you can get them) are in the 20-25% range. Why use 30% then?
(5) It is clear that anyone can manipulate the numbers, but no matter what, the AD facility is far more costly and unreliable than our current system.


Posted by Cedric de La Beaujardiere, a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 16, 2011 at 4:52 am

Cedric de La Beaujardiere is a registered user.

Dear Enid,

Thank you for continuing the conversation. In response to your points:

"1) The Dry AD that Cedric is using - is modeled after the Harvest Co. facility. Harvest wrote a letter to the Council stating that they could not do this process without additional processes and money. We should not even be looking at this particular process."
The base costs I am using (1st, 2nd, and 4th columns of my first table) are straight from the feasibility study, and are not simply Harvest Power's costs, They are ARI's evaluation of the costs provided by the five Request For Information (RFI) respondents whose AD technologies apply to Palo Alto's scale.

.

"2) Cedric has used numbers that include the RWQCP's incinerator with the present process being continued. The long-range plans for the RWQCP include discontinuing the incineration and using newer ways of handling the biosolids. The process will be on the RWQCP's own site, not park land and will go ahead regardless of whether AD happens or not."
Yes, I included the costs of the alternatives which use the incinerator, because those were the only non-Dry AD cases which were provided by the study. I agree and have repeatedly stated that Wet AD is the most likely non-incineration option for the city to pursue to end sewage incineration, and I support the Wet AD option. I am pleased to know that as the study is finalized for June, it will include both the real costs of the incineration which I have conservatively estimated, and an option to use Wet AD for sewage.
What is unfortunate is that Staff felt they did not have time by June to study using Wet AD for both sewage and food waste, with composting of the resultant digestate using yard-trimmings. Phil Bobel has informed that adding food-waste to the sewage for digestion increases the amount of energy produced beyond what would be produced if they were digested separately. He also indicated that this option may be studied before Council would decide on a specific waste-processing strategy.

The RWQCP (sewage treatment plant) site alone can only accommodate digesting sewage and FOG (Fats, Oils, and Grease). There isn't enough space within the sewage plant to process food or yard wastes, nor to compost. Thus, the city would be left with the problem of digestate disposal, which is usually either sent away to a landfill or composted by a third-party, either option at a cost of ~$1 million per year.

At a minimum the 10 acres provides a space to compost our wastes and save money, or to expand the system to generate more energy and compost and save money. I support the notion of putting as much of the processing as is feasible within the sewage plant site and minimizing the use of the 10 acres, but not if that is significantly more costly and environmentally detrimental. That 8% of the 126 acre landfill will give the City the flexibility to determine the best economic and environmental solution.

.

"3) The real costs for the present system are then $58 and $52, not the higher numbers Cedric uses."
Please clarify where you have derived your $58 and $52 figures for "the real costs for the present system" which would be "discontinuing the incineration and using newer ways of handling the biosolids". Is this millions of dollars over 20 years? I have tried to derive your numbers from the study but can not. Note that in the study (Web Link, "Data" tab, lines 231 & 233) for a 20-year period:
$ 35 million is the cost of just sending food to SJ's Dry AD and yard to Gilroy , and
$ 30 million is the cost of sending both food and yard to Gilroy for composting.
$100 million appears to be the cost of Wet AD for sewage-only at the sewage plant site (compare that to $106 million for Dry AD and Composting for all three waste streams combined). I derived this last figure of $100 million for Wet AD by subtracting "Case 1d No Biosolids" ($65M on line 218) from "Case 1c" ($165M on line 18). In English, that cost equation is:
(Wet AD for sewage and Dry AD for yard&food) – (Dry AD for yard&food) = Wet AD for sewage.
So, I don't see where you're getting $58 and $52. Please explain.

(you have two points numbered "3")

"3) The consultant stated that no body wants to fund these kind of projects for more than 20 years. 30 years is far too vague and subject to unexpected and aging maintenance problems."
Yes, the consultant did say that financing of such projects are usually done on 20-year timeframes. But the facility itself would last much longer than that. For instance, the sewage incinerators are about 50 years old. My point is that after 20 years the project-financing debt is paid off, and in the subsequent years, we save the $3M/year which was used to pay off that debt. Note that the Dry AD costs already include $0.6M/year in "Maintenance & Repair" and "Capital Repair & Replacement". Even if the annual repair costs went up by a million dollars starting in year 21 (which I find extremely unlikely) we would STILL save ~$30M.

.

"(4) The consultant also said that most grants (if you can get them) are in the 20-25% range. Why use 30% then?"
I used 30% because that was what the study used. The study gives figures for the first year, twentieth year, and total 20 years for 30%, 40%, or 50% grants for capital expenditures. I merely presented the lowest of those grant levels, which would save the city about $20M over 20 years, even without replacing the incinerator. Frankly, 30% is pretty close to 20%. Say it was only 15%, then we'd save $10M, and that, by the way, is off the base case of private financing. If it was public-financing + grant (which the consultant told Council is an option), the savings would be hugely greater.

.

"(5) It is clear that anyone can manipulate the numbers, but no matter what, the AD facility is far more costly and unreliable than our current system."
Unlike the opponents and nay-sayers, I have been EXTREMELY (one may say excruciatingly) forthcoming in where I get my base and projected numbers, and I have always used conservative numbers in estimating the alternatives' realistic costs. For instance, to retain the incinerator beyond its remaining 10-years of life, I translated Phil's "tens of millions of dollars" to the lowest such increment, $20M. CO2-emissions costs range from $20-$60/ton, so I picked $20. But even without any "adders", your statement is still false. Again, straight from the study, total cost over 20 years:
$76 million to Incinerate sewage, Truck yard to Gilroy, food to SJ DAD
$71 million to Incinerate sewage, Truck yard & food to Gilroy
$67 million to publicly-finance Dry Anaerobic-Digestion of sewage, food, and yard wastes.
.
Thus, public-financing of local Dry AD can save the city at least $4 to $9 million over 20 years.

Respectfully,
Cedric


Posted by Get your feet out of the clouds, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Apr 16, 2011 at 5:32 am

Really makes me angry that in a time when almost every one of us has tightened our belt, stopped spending so much ( or at all), have lost our future retirement funds, etc..

OUR CITY actually thinks it is acceptable to spend OUR MONEY on this off-year election, to ask us to spend even MORE money we don't have on a dream.

C'mon..come back to earth, City Council!!!


Posted by Cedric de La Beaujardiere, a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 16, 2011 at 10:39 am

Cedric de La Beaujardiere is a registered user.

To "Get your feet out of the clouds"
1. Making the land available for the city to more cost-effectively handle its own wastes is highly likely to be a net savings to the city and rate payers, even with the special election and study costs.
2. It is not the Councils or any individual group's "fault" that there is a special election:
... A) When the study was launched and the the petition signature gathering drive was started, the target was a regular city election year.
... B) Last November's passage of Measure S made that election year a special election year.
3. Now that we've collected enough signature to qualify for the ballot, Council by law does not have the choice of not having the election.


Posted by Cedric de La Beaujardiere, a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 20, 2011 at 9:57 pm

Cedric de La Beaujardiere is a registered user.

Darn, I just realized that my carefully crafted table has a typo, in that the year-21 per ton costs of local Dry AD I left as copies of year-20, instead of updating them from my data. The table of costs without "adders" should instead be:

Single year costs per ton .........| Total costs over........................|
YEAR-1 | YEAR-20 | YEAR-21 .| 20-YEARS .... | 30-YEARS ..... | PROJECT/FINANCING OPTION
.$ 72 .....| $118 .......| $121 ........| $76 million ....| $107 million ..| Incinerate sewage, Truck yard to Gilroy, food to SJ DAD
.$ 68 .....| $111 .......| $114 ........| $71 million ....| $101 million ..| Incinerate sewage, Truck yard & food to Gilroy
$112 .....| $106 ......|. $ 65 .........| $91 million ....| $106 million ..| Dry AD: private financing/private operation
.$ 81 .....|. $ 81 .......|. $ 65 .........| $67 million ....| $82 million ....| Dry AD: public financing/private operation
.$ 62 .....|. $ 65 .......|. $ 65 .........| $52 million ....| $67 million ....| Dry AD: City receives 30% in grants worth $12M

The reason the per-ton cost of local AD drops by almost half in year 21 is that the capital-construction loans or bonds would all be paid off by year 20.

I still have yet to see from Enid the source of her low numbers for a non-incineration, non-parkland Digestion+Composting solution.


If you were a member and logged in you could track comments from this story.

Post a comment

Posting an item on Town Square is simple and requires no registration. Just complete this form and hit "submit" and your topic will appear online. Please be respectful and truthful in your postings so Town Square will continue to be a thoughtful gathering place for sharing community information and opinion. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

We prefer that you use your real name, but you may use any "member" name you wish.

Name: *

Select your neighborhood or school community: * Not sure?

Comment: *

Verification code: *
Enter the verification code exactly as shown, using capital and lowercase letters, in the multi-colored box.

*Required Fields

Veggie Grill coming soon to Mountain View's San Antonio Center
By Elena Kadvany | 23 comments | 3,451 views

Is HBO's Silicon Valley Any Good?
By Anita Felicelli | 23 comments | 2,287 views

Finding mentors in would-be bosses
By Jessica T | 0 comments | 1,962 views

A memorable Paly prom
By Sally Torbey | 7 comments | 1,149 views

Chinese Immersion
By Paul Losch | 7 comments | 437 views