The Feb.17 power outage was a stark reminder that our reliance on imported electricity comes at a cost. When the grid goes down, we are vulnerable.
Fortunately, Palo Alto has an incredible opportunity to generate 1.6 megawatts of electricity (enough to power 1,400 homes) within the city limits through a process called "anaerobic digestion." This technology could convert our 60,000 tons of organic waste (food and yard spoils and sewage sludge) into biogas and compost, and allow us to retire our sewage sludge incinerator, which uses $800,000 worth of energy per year and creates a hazardous waste ash (the copper content is too high) that costs $234,000 per year to dispose of.
Anaerobic digestion has the potential to reduce our greenhouse-gas emissions by 25,000 tons per year — 5 percent of our community-wide emissions. It would generate $1.4 million per year in energy sales and $588,000 in high-grade compost. During these tough economic times, converting our waste to resources makes great sense.
Opponents of this plan argue that it would interfere with the plan to convert our dump into Byxbee Park. However, the facility would require only eight acres of the 126-acre site, and could be built with a "green" roof that makes it virtually invisible from the park.
Undedicating future parkland (aka the dump) would require a vote of the people, so this would be an opportunity for residents to say, "Yes, we want to dramatically reduce our carbon footprint while generating badly needed revenue and preparing our city for future emergencies."
The City Council will consider this issue at a study session on Monday, March 8.
The whole issue of the usage, or not, of our landfill seems to me full of contradictions. That land has been planned as "open space" and part of the contiguous Byxbee Park. Therefore, some people have fought the notion of continuing to have our recycling center there, or anything besides open space.
It seems to me that sustainability measures go hand in hand with open space and can be mutually supportive, and of course supportive of our community and potentially to others as well.
I would like to see the City Council open up again for discussion the uses of our baylands, specifically our current landfill and recycling center, in view of recent studies and available technology and the long-range good of our community and the planet.
St. Francis Drive
On March 8 the Palo Alto City Council will be considering a proposal to process organic waste locally on land that was planned to be turned into open space after the city landfill (aka "dump") is closed.
The alternative is to truck the yard clippings, food waste and other organic material to a site in the Central Valley, generating diesel emissions, many heavy truck trips that put wear and tear on our highways and would result in losing an opportunity to turn our waste into a resource for energy generation and compost.
The best path forward to a sustainable future is to find inventive ways to transform our waste into beneficial resources. A new, state-of-the-art composting facility would do just that. Even better, it would save the city money, create local green jobs and help reduce our collective green house gas emissions.
It is time for the environmentalists who prize open space and those who prize cradle-to-cradle resource management to join forces to support this innovative program that will help "green" the City's budget as well as our collective environmental footprint.
Last week, the Palo Alto Weekly applauded artificial turf as a "green solution." Fake grass certainly looks green and saves on water bills, but what are the environmental costs of making the switch?
When sod, dirt, and rock are scraped off to prepare the yard for artificial turf, as a gardener I wonder, "What was living there?"
I've learned that the soil beneath our feet, although it does not look alive, is actually teeming with biotic life. Invisible to the eye, billions of underground creatures play a major role in supporting all life.
The artificial turf "green solution" causes a buildup of heat around and under the lawn and promotes the use of herbicides to treat perimeter weeds, practices that not only destroy the biotic life in the soil but also create a hostile environment for wildlife, banishing the beneficial insects and pollinators that we need so desperately to support plants, birds, and other wildlife.
Many gardeners are recognizing that the Bay Area is a summer-dry Mediterranean climate, not a region blessed with year-round rain. We have available many beautiful, water-wise, and soil-friendly alternatives to lawns — whether real or artificial.
A wonderful resource for anyone struggling with the thirsty-lawn dilemma is the California Native Plant Society's Going Native Garden Tour, a free event that takes place throughout the Peninsula on Sunday, April 18. For more information and to register (required), go to goingnativegardentour.org.
Over time I have adjusted my own aesthetic sense to see the beauty in seasonal changes and imperfection — the budding, the flowering and the dying.
My wish for the Bay Area is that 2010 becomes the year that real green solutions overtake our yards to honor and support all of life. Imagine beautiful native and Mediterranean and food plants replacing static artificial carpets of green plastic.