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Guest Opinion: Vote yes on Measure E
Original post made
on Oct 10, 2011
More than 100 years ago, Palo Altans debated whether or not to establish a municipal utilities district. Fortunately, for every generation since, the pro side won, bringing huge benefits to our community. Today we face a similar decision. ==B Related story: == [Web Link
Media Center posts Palo Alto election videos]
Read the full story here Web Link
posted Monday, October 10, 2011, 5:06 PM
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Posted by Alex DiGiorgio
a resident of another community
on Oct 10, 2011 at 10:01 pm
James, I appreciate your contributions to the conversation. But I have to disagree, amigo.
Your first assertion ("Biogas is unproven") begs for a long night of hoppy CA IPAs and google searches. (I recommend the Bear Repubic's Racer 5 or Firestone's Union Jack).
The cost-effectivness, reliability, and life-cycle efficiency of biogas technology has been proven more times than we can count. In 1895, the gas lamps of Exeter, England, were illuminated by methane harvested from the city's sewers. There are also plenty of anecdotes about Assyria and Greek Leper colonies using primitive biogas technology. I'll yet you do the Googling.
We also have countless examples right here, right now, in the good ol' USA. Some of the Country's most forward-thinking municipal utilities are advancing biogas technology are in the Bay Area. And there are many other enterprising cites-counties-districts throughout CA, the rest of the Country, and (dare we compare) Europe and the International Community.
I'd encourage anyone and everyone to take a Google-glance at:
In the Bay Area:
East Bay Municipal Utilities Dist. (EBMUD); Oakland, CA (they've been utilizing biogas for 30 years)
Millbrae, CA (about 20 miles N. of Palo Alto)
Central Marin Sanitation Agency; San Rafel, CA (about 40 miles N. of Palo Alto)
San Jose/Santa Clara They've be at it for four decades. (YouTube video search "San Jose methane")
In the State of California:
Riverside's Water Quality Control Plant (RWQCP)
Los Angeles County Sanitation District (Palmdale Water Reclamation Plant)
San Diego's Point Loma Wastewater Treatment Plant (they've been at it 30 years) & North City Water Reclamation Plant
Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) Elk Grove Plant
Humboldt Waste Management Authority
Corona, CA (Clearwater Cogeneration Wastewater Control Facility)
Chino, CA (Inland Empire Wastewater Plant)
Santa Maria, CA
Palm Springs, CA
San Louis Obispo, CA
Modesto Irrigation District
Turlock Irrigation District
Imperial Irrigation District (energyintegrationgroup.com)
North of the River Water Treatment Plant in Shafter, CA
Chico's Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.
Miller-Coors Brewing Company; Irwindale CA
Gill's Onions; Oxnard, CA
Strauss Family Creamer; Petaluma, CA
In The USA:
Des Moines, IA
San Antonio, TX (check out '
Waco, TX (check out 'WMARSS' for a similar scenario)
Alberta Lea, MN
Ottumwa, IA (Water Pollution Control Facility)
West Lafayette, Indiana (home of Purdue University)
Boston, MA (Greater Lawrence Sanitary District; Clinton, Pittsfield, and Rockland Wastewater Treatment Plants
Newton Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant in Brooklyn, New York
Wards Island Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant, New York
The 'Deer Island Sewage Treatment Plant' of the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority
King County, WA
City of Gresham, OR
Essex Junction Municipal Biogas Generator, VT
Grand Junction, CO
Fort Collins, CO (New Belgium Brewery)
Milton, PA (see the 'Milton Regional Sewer Authority' by definition an authority on biogas ;-)
Dairy farms all over Wisconsin
Tucson, AZ (see: Ina Road Water Pollution Control Facility)
see what I mean about countless?
We haven't even mentioned Sweden, Germany, India, Tanzania, Rwanda, Australia, Brazil...
But I'm glad to hear you like Solar panels. Since you're fan of PV, you'll be happy to know Palo Alto's innovative policy planners are structuring a Local CLEAN Program, which will feature 1) Standard Offer Contracts and 2) predictable interconnection procedures for solar and biopower projects deployed within the City's municipal service territory.
In other words, if we pass Measure E we'd be able to entertain the possibility of putting a large, multi-acre, solar PV array atop the Biogas/Compost facility that could be built. Or a green, grass covered roof. Who knows, if we pass Measure E, we can all offer ideas.
Also, why worry about the cost of these facilities (approx. $40 million) when we're so far from spending or allocating any money? Measure E is about the public's options with the 10 acres of the dump next to the regional sewage plant. Voting YES will set make this space available without spending a dollar. After that, the City will be legally required to conduct environmental review according to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). And the City will have much more leverage when discussing proposals with biopower developers and compost vendors.
Sharon, I'd love to set your mind at ease also. Anaerobic digestion is one of the most common ways of killing pathogens (and odors) in sewage and wastewater. Recycling energy from organic waste doesn't risk fecal contamination, and neither should the biosolid digestate that is left over from the AD process.
For using biosolids as a fertilizer or soil amendment, the City may want to consider sequestering biosolids from sewage and those of foodwaste (which has a more controllable input/feedstock).
But again, we're getting a little a head of ourselves since we still need to have a viable place to locate an Biopower & Compost facility.
At a minimum, we should vote 'YES' on Measure E because it will allow us to have more conversations like the ones people have been having recently. People are discussing the future of Palo Alto's waste management & natural resource policy with renewed interest and passion. If we pass Measure E these conversations will continue; we can explore (and debate) the best path forward with many diverse opinions and ideas.
If we vote 'No' our community's fate be to have a symbolic gesture toward genuine sustainability. We can harmonize Palo Alto's Zero Waste Initiative with its Climate Action Plan so that the two are mutually reinforcing. And we'll literally save millions ratepayer dollars in the process (EBMUD and many of these others places have).
What do you say, James? Ready to Vote YES on E?
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Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 11, 2011 at 11:02 am
The idea that our waste disposal, and composting needs, must be handled in Palo Alto makes about as much sense as claims that our food must be grown wholly in Palo Alto, that all of the energy we consume must be created locally, that all of the water we use must come from the aquifers underneath our city boundaries, and that only people who have jobs in Palo Alto can live here. Anyone making those claims would be dismissed out-of-hand. So, what makes this argument about local disposal of certain kinds of our community waste so compelling when clearly everything we do as individuals, as a city, and as a society is woven into a tapestry of regional cooperation and resource allocation?
Take the Palo Alto Water Quality Plant, for instance:
The Regional Water Quality Control Plant is owned and operated by the City of Palo Alto for the communities of Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Mountain View, Palo Alto, Stanford University and the East Palo Alto Sanitary District. The Plant is an advanced treatment facility that uses gravity settling, biological treatment with microorganisms and dual media filtration to remove unwanted organic materials and toxins from the approximately 22 million gallons a day of wastewater generated by the service area's 220,000 residents. The Plant's treated effluent meets all of the stringent requirements for discharge to the sensitive South San Francisco Bay.
Claiming some newfound principal of "locality", should Palo Alto end its participation with all of the nearby cities, and Stanford, that are currently customers of this facility, telling them that: "you must build your own water quality plant to take care of your own waste?" It's hard to believe that most rational Palo Alto residents would go along with such a proposal.
Other claims about savings are not remotely believable because a fully vetted business plan has not been developed. Nor have all of the costs associated with such a project. For instance, the City has a habit of charging the Utility rent on the office space that the Utility occupies, even though those offices are already owned by the City. Has the rent on ten acres of prime Palo Alto land (nominally worth $5M an acre) been included in any of the cost estimates being promoted by the "E"-people? And what about bond financing costs, site mid-life refurbishment costs, or site end-of-life tear-down costs? Anyone considered any, or all, of these necessary expenditures?
And what about the cost of our electricity? The fact that this facility will generate some amount of electricity needs to be considered against the total energy budget for the city. Also needing some consideration is how the total cost of this facility will affect our individual electricity costs? It's hard to believe that our electricity costs will go down because of the Utility's being forced to buy power from this facility. Not only will the construction (and financing costs) need to be added into the cost basis for this power, we also need to remember that because Palo Alto's customer base is very small, the Palo Alto Utility often has to pay more for its bulk electricity purchases than larger customers, like PG&E. If electricity is generated locally in any significant amount, then this reduces the size of the bulk purchases the City will need to negotiate in the future--which will doubtless drive the costs of electricity up for everyone (including Palo Alto businesses) as a result. Claims of "savings" may turn out to be illusory, with offsetting, or even larger, electricity cost increases because the people behind this proposal have no idea how the "primary markets" for bulk energy commodities actually operate--being more enthralled with some ill-considered ideas about the "environment" that have no sound economic foundations upon which the Utility's customers can depend.
Projects of this magnitude should be driven by the City's Utility. There is no one associated with this project even remotely accountable to the Utility's customers, or the voters. If it turns out to "go south" at some point, there will be no one from this group from which to seek compensation--people who will have played the role more of the "Pied Piper", than knowledgeable, and accountable, Utility managers, engineers and financial analysts.
It stands to reason that new technologies of waste management will come along, from time-to-time. But regional solutions for these problems make more sense than local solutionsparticularly in small, built out, towns like Palo Alto.
There are no compelling reasons to force this issue at this time. We are told that a regional facility is being built. So, why not let that facility be built and use it, rather than create another management issue for the already challenged Palo Alto Utility and Public Works Departments?
If at some future time it becomes clear that a local solution is needed, then let the City Departments tasked with managing these aspects of the City's operations do the necessary research needed to make credible proposals to the City Council, rather than have to listen to claims from unaccountable individuals that have no credibility at the current time? The parkland isn't going anywhere. If this local solution turns out to be a good idea, then the land can be de-dedicated later, when we have a solid business plan, and a solid engineering plan, upon which to make cogent decisions. Listening to people with no utilities management experience about the future of our utilities is most definitely a recipe for disaster.
Vote NO on Measure E.