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City adopts plan to revamp waste operations

Original post made on Jul 3, 2012

As Palo Alto prepares to dramatically overhaul how it handles its waste, city officials and residents remain at odds over the future of local composting and processing of food scraps and sewage sludge. The City Council adopted an "action plan" Monday night aimed at bringing the vexing question closer to a solution.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, July 3, 2012, 12:14 AM

Comments (38)

Posted by Bob Wenzlau, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 3, 2012 at 8:19 am

Bob Wenzlau is a registered user.

The Campaign for Measure E was delighted with the outcome of Council's unanimous vote.

The decision embarks on the hard thinking to establish an overall organics management strategy. The earlier work of the Blue Ribbon Task Force and the feasibility study that preceded Measure E found a rationale for local organics management and an interconnection between our wastewater and solid waste systems. However, in both these studies political or policy constraints precluded the best planning. Then the now approved 10-acre site was off limits. Then the separated planning tracks for the waste water (Long-term Wastewater Planning) and solid waste (Energy/Compost Feasibility) were not integrated. Measure E was premised on proper engineering planning, and last night fruits of Measure E were borne in the Council's unanimous decision.

The next phase of planning is a "silo buster". The organics pose a most potent climate and waste management impact. Now the organics go to two "silos" - some organics placed in the sewer go to wastewater treatment (Silo #1) and other organics are put out at curbside in trash or compost go south of San Jose (Silo #2). Our organics are either burned or go on a long road trip. The current mode is a failed management approach with adverse climate impact and lost green energy opportunity.

Busting the silos is the recognition that the organics either delivered via waste water or via pickup at the curb can be co-managed. Co-management of organics will bring efficiency as capital investment can consider one facility that treats the organics regardless of whether they are trucked or sewer borne. Even the funding of this plan shows that the silos are blurring: this next phase of study is funded jointly by our Wastewater Fund, the Utilities Fund and the Solid Waste Fund. This integrated organics planning has already been watched nationally, and allow Palo Alto to make a smart fiscal move that also pioneers in urban sustainability.



Posted by KC, a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 3, 2012 at 9:53 am

Glad to see that the same city hall crew that screwed up the Mitchell Park library project, which is a year behind schedule and over budget, is going to give us this new waste plant. It's pretty hard to bungle something like a library building, but it will be much easier to turn this project into a boondoggle. Can't wait.


Posted by Cur Mudgeon, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jul 3, 2012 at 10:34 am

KC, a resident of the College Terrace neighborhood--

I would hope that the project as proposed succeeds. But I fear that your cynicism is right on target. Wish we could feel more positive about the future outcome.


Posted by JLC, a resident of University South
on Jul 3, 2012 at 11:38 am

There are many more engineers in the community watching this project than the libraries. Regarding the libraries, one of my friends asked "Why are we even investing in obsolete technologies in the first place?" referring to physical books and documents as obsolete. The wastewater and waste issues don't draw that kind of response here.


Posted by Bob, a resident of Community Center
on Jul 3, 2012 at 11:48 am

I got out the calculator. $350M plus $150M plus a foot bridge over 101, plus streets , plus the Creek, , plus the parks, plus all the new hires in Jim Keene's stable, plus the pensions and benefits plus + plus+ plus++ Welcome to Stockton Annex. And by the way, what about all the extras needed for the new ABAG population? This Council has delusions of grandeur.


Posted by City Hall Incompetence, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 3, 2012 at 3:07 pm

Incompetence abounds at PA city hall. The employees only care about the lucrative retirement packages they will receive. Many of the employees wouldn't cut the mustard in the private sector. But they are sharp enough to know that working at city hall is a gravy train if they can hold on until they reach the early retirement age.


Posted by jm, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jul 3, 2012 at 3:08 pm

"Regional Water Quality Control Plant, which serves Palo Alto, Stanford University, Mountain View, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills and the East Palo Alto Sanitary District."

Why is it that Palo Alto has to provide and build this new facility?


Posted by DDee, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 3, 2012 at 3:35 pm

Once again, wasn't all this part of an overall waste plan BEFORE concretizing such major decisions that should have all been an articulated piece of such a plan --- such as closing the waste fill, shipping waste to another city?

"What wehave here, is a failure to communicate!" (Cool Hand Luke)

No, what we have here is chaos and lack of good governance (even if expensive as heck) dressed as professionalism brought to us by "the best and the brightest."


Posted by Bob Wenzlau, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 3, 2012 at 3:53 pm

Bob Wenzlau is a registered user.

JM - In the case of longterm improvements to the water pollution control plant (including the biosolids handling), Palo Alto would necessarily enjoy a contribution from the other member agencies for capital improvements as the capital improvement benefits the member agencies. However, the processing of Palo Alto generated food waste or yard trimmings would be Palo Alto's alone to pay unless other nearby jurisdictions chose to participate. There will likely be numerous grant opportunities to possibly offset Palo Alto expenditures.


Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 3, 2012 at 4:15 pm

>including the biosolids handling

"Biosolids" are human sewage sludge. The term "biosolids" was the result of a national contest to rename sewage sludge.

Bob W. is now trying to deconstruct the notion of compost. His 'silos' theory suggests that he wants to mix the two:

1. street side trimmings/food wastes
2. human sewage sludge

But who will use that mixture, in the end? The organic gardening crowd opposes it, and San Francisco has made it illegal for even a giveaway program.

Bob W. is back on his bandwagon to fool gullible Palo Altans.

If you ever hear him say the word "biosolids", again, be aware that he is fooling you.


Posted by Mike, a resident of Los Altos
on Jul 3, 2012 at 6:10 pm

I'm sure that the city council will choose the absolute most expensive option.


Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 3, 2012 at 6:23 pm

>I'm sure that the city council will choose the absolute most expensive option.

Unfortunately, I concur. Even worse, they will choose the worst option, at the highest cost. And it will fail. A huge cost to our city, with a kick-the-can forward rationale.

At the same time, we see our city council claiming that they are trying to restrain costs. Buy me a bridge to nowhere!



Posted by Is it a cult, a resident of Midtown
on Jul 3, 2012 at 8:56 pm

Thank you Craig Laughton for the definition of biosolids.
I think many of the enthusiasts don't understand the complex operation, but have become a little cult-like. They found a charismatic leader and will follow him over the cliff. Unfortunately they are dragging us along.
I doubt most of the council knew exactly what they were voting on but the cult followers put the pressure on and they succumbed.


Posted by Bob Wenzlau, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 4, 2012 at 7:30 am

Bob Wenzlau is a registered user.

The composing project is intertwined, and appropriately so, with the city's long-term waste water strategy. A premise of Measure E was the closure of the incinerator, and anyone who read the initiative would have discovered this. Therefore rather than "deconstructing" composting, composting has been an anticipated integral element of the broader organics challenge.

The phase the project is moving toward as an aftermath of the Council's vote does not carry preconceived technology choices. The process will ask for the private sector to suggest technologies through an RFQ process. I expect the technology choices to be constrained toward the environmental objectives the city sets, but several varying approaches should be lifted up. As an advocate of certain types of technologies, I will have to allow the process to run its course.

The likely reason that those Council members typically in opposition supported a study was they felt that the debate would be better informed by financing and technology studies. As Measure E passed, the initiative presumed the alternatives would be studied, and this action carries out a reasonably stated intent of the vote. Once the vote outcome was clear, my hunch was with an election coming this November likely a candidate would be seen as more electable voting for this than being singled out in opposition.

In all likelihood this will be a privately financed project if it moves forward. While that may carry a premium on rate as opposed to a municipally financed project, the approach would minimize the city's risk. I have observed given the divided opinions on Council on this topic, a strong focus on the financial burden the project poses. That the Council would chose the most expensive technology is merely rhetoric, and very unlikely in outcome.

As to biosolids, the stigmatism and practical reality of working with biosolids is not lost in this effort. Still, the Council did vote to move away from the incinerator which the Measure E campaign has carried as a principle goal. The closure of the incinerator necessarily lifts the discussion of biosolids to the forefront, and one cannot skip the discussion of finding a new more environmentally benign way for their management. The discussion of anaerobic digestion, conventional at nearly all sewage plants, accomplishes the generation of biogas (methane).


Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 4, 2012 at 8:54 am

If human sewage sludge ("biosolids")is mixed in with compost from yard trimmings, what will happen with that stuff? We know enough already that such products are being rejected in many places. Will we have to haul it to a landfill for burial? Incinerate it?


Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 4, 2012 at 11:12 am

>The phase the project is moving toward as an aftermath of the Council's vote does not carry preconceived technology choices.

So that means that they will seriously consider plasma arc, right?


Posted by common sense, a resident of Midtown
on Jul 4, 2012 at 11:39 am

Bob Wenzlau writes "In all likelihood this will be a privately financed project if it moves forward."

This is another High Speed Rail, smoke & mirrors financing scheme.

Tell us Bob, where the revenues will come from that would interest a private investor? and what are the operational expenses, and the expected return on investment for these private investors?


Posted by Bob Wenzlau, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 4, 2012 at 12:08 pm

Bob Wenzlau is a registered user.

How the biosolids once composted would be applied might be an element of the next phase. We know that much of the soil amendment purchased at Orchard or Home Depot is amended with biosolids. The landscapers that do nonagricultural application of soil amendments have not concern. The concern arises with use on food crops. The biosolids are not the only area of concern in local compost as many residents use pesticides that enter the compost process. Even without biosolids, I would hesitate to use municipal compost on food crop. Most of Palo Alto's use of compost would not be toward food crop, so I find the biosolids topic a bit of a red herring. Again, most soil amendment has this incorporated.

The whole discussion of "smoke and mirrors" financing is nice rhetoric. Cities do have capital infrastructure, and waste water treatment plants have been around for years. The bulk of the $500 million forecast in the waste water plant improvements are not tied to the compost, but still should smartly be procured. Private finance can tie the risk to the vendor. There is no advocation in my discussion - it is just a choice the city would have as it pursues projects. Watching the debacle of the Mitchell Park, it seemed prudent to likely not put the city in the construction business, hence it was mentioned.

The way the private financing would be reimbursed is through a per ton tipping fee. We already pay tipping fees at the Kirby Canyon landfill and the SMART station. There would be a hypothetical $60 per ton fee charged for received organics. The private operator would count on tipping fees as well as revenue from sale of product. The city would likely have a put-or-pay relationship whereby they would have to supply a minimum tonnage of organic. The put-or-pay contracts have bitten us in the past, so we would need to be cautious in its design. (While I am not a high speed rail expert, my sense was the state was carrying the risk, not the private investor, so as prices escalates the public has to pay the difference. In a private scenario, the investors would have to pay this difference so the City would not be at risk.)


I would anticipate plasma arc could be considered. The approach though would not specify the technology, but rather allow the vendors to make their suggestion. As such it might be lifted up. Obviously, I am not a fan for many reasons of plasma arc, but the process we supported at Council allows for various technologies to be evaluated.


Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 4, 2012 at 1:07 pm

>I would anticipate plasma arc could be considered. The approach though would not specify the technology, but rather allow the vendors to make their suggestion

Are plasma arc vendors being invited to participate in the discussion?

> We know that much of the soil amendment purchased at Orchard or Home Depot is amended with biosolids.

Translation: Human sewage sludge, with the toxins contained in it, are being applied to our yards, golf courses, etc. The toxins can accumulate with every application. If there was truth in advertising/packaging laws, the word "biosolids" would be banned, and the truth be told: 'Warning: This product contains human sewage sludge, with possible toxins to humans. These toxins can accumulate over time.'

If the final 'studies' decide that mixing human sewage sludge with compost from timmings/food is OK, then they will need to address the problem of what to do with the stuff, in a market that is increasingly rejecting this stuff, as organic gardeners and landscapers get educated on the issue.

>The way the private financing would be reimbursed is through a per ton tipping fee

Sound familiar? We were also told that high speed rail would attract private capital through ridership fees. Fool us once.... However, IF there is a captive market, provided by the 'zero-waste' zealots, which forces us to participate, then the sky is the limit. No matter how high the tipping fees go, we are forced to pay them. A rational study would look at the cost structure, and estimate how high the tipping fees would need to go to attract private capital.








Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 4, 2012 at 4:28 pm

From the origianl article:

"Councilman Greg Schmid, who had long urged the council to consider other types of other technologies in addition to anaerobic digestion, suggested that staff has not explored enough options. He had advocated that the city look at other cities in the state, beyond the immediate region, for possible solutions.

"I'm disturbed that, in this long-term plan, we have drawn very serious boundaries about what we're studying," Schmid said."

That doesn't sound to me like the city council is seriously considering realistic, and efficient, solutions, like plasma arc. It suggests to me that they are political captives of the 'zero-waste' zealots.

The endpoint on this ruse is that the zero waste crowd will jump a big new tax increase on Palo Alto citizens. And still have a failed model.


Posted by common sense, a resident of Midtown
on Jul 4, 2012 at 7:08 pm

Bob Wenzlau says "The way the private financing would be reimbursed is through a per ton tipping fee. We already pay tipping fees at the Kirby Canyon landfill and the SMART station. There would be a hypothetical $60 per ton fee charged for received organics. The private operator would count on tipping fees as well as revenue from sale of product."

What I see is alot hand waving, but not much in terms of specifics: how many tons, at $60/ton would have be be deposited to earn a return on investment that would interest a private investor? and how many tons does the city currently deposit? How much of our utility bill currently goes towards refuse pick up of compost material?

That's why this is the makings of another High Speed Rail debacle; the High Speed rail was sold as a $40 billion project; taxpayers would only need to finance $10 billion, and "private investors" would finance the rest. The High Speed rail is now a $68 billion project, with no private investors to be found. Ridership estimates have dropped from 55 million to 20 million, and estimated ticket prices have now skyrocketed. This in 4 years of revised planning.


Posted by common sense, a resident of Midtown
on Jul 5, 2012 at 8:39 am

The article mentions roughly $400 million in capital costs. Assuming a bond is needed, then to pay back the principal + interest would cost around $30 million/year over 30 years.

Note - this does not cover the yearly operational costs!

At $60/ton tipping charge, it would take 500 thousand tons of compost per year to pay back the capital costs. Palo Alto has a population of around 63,000 people, so it works out to around 8 tons of compost per person per year. An average house with 4 people that would be 32 tons of compost per year.

I don't know about everyone else, but I put out my compost bin every 2 weeks, and it's about 50 pounds, so on a yearly basis, my household generates .65 tons of compost per year.

32 tons of compost per years needed, versus .65 tons of compost that my household generates - guess who will make up the cost difference of around $2000/year? we the residents in higher utility bills.

Note that this doesn't factor in the cost of operating the facility.


Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 5, 2012 at 1:13 pm

common sense,

Good post.

Palo Alto is being driven by zealots, on this issue of composting. These zealots do not need to provide rational answers, they just need to control those on our city council, who will do their bidding.

Regrettably, we will be driven deeper into a fiscal hole, by a compliant council. This composting/zero waste agenda is irrational. There are much better solutions avaiable.


Posted by Bob Wenzlau, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 5, 2012 at 2:02 pm

Bob Wenzlau is a registered user.

Common Sense (who ever you are),

Your math is fine, but the capital basis is incorrect. The $400 million you cite in your post is the master plan projection for the overall Water Pollution Control Plant upgrades for 50 years - not the composting/energy capital estimate. The upgrades would be funded my multiple agencies including Palo Alto and would not be paid by yards of trimmings produced. I appreciate how you could arrive at a high unit cost using $400 million as a basis, and then create errant perceptions among the readers here. The projected capital costs for the composting fees has not been updated since the feasibility study conducted before the election.

We will get to debate around better estimates across the next years as the next level of engineering is complete, but I wanted to avert any misunderstanding created by the numbers you draw from. Furthermore, the $60 per ton I discussed was reasonably representative, but was only mentioned to be representative of how the capital investment would be recouped (in addition to sale of energy and sale of soil amendment.)

Bob


Posted by common sense, a resident of Midtown
on Jul 5, 2012 at 2:56 pm

Notice how Bob Wenzlau refuses to come up with any financial figures for the compost factory?

In the past, the pro-anaerobic crowd estimated the cost from $98 million to $133 million to build the compost factory; the pro-park people estimated the capital cost to be between $111 million to $268 million.

Using a $133 million capital cost, and the $60/ton tipping charge (provided by Bob Wenzlau), $10 million/year to repay the principal & interest on the bonds. It means an average household would need to generate around 10.6 tons/year) of compost (my household only generates .65 tons/year).

In other terms, it will raise our garbage bills an average $633/year. My refuse bill today is only $450/year, and that includes garbage, recyclable collection & compost collection.

This is using the pro-anaerobic crowd's number; if I used the pro-park crowd's numbers, this could add another $1200 to our garbage bill (where many of us are only paying $450/year).

This analysis doesn't include the cost of running the compost factory, but Bob says the compost factory will make some money by selling energy - but will the energy be enough to cover the operational costs? Highly doubtful.


Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 5, 2012 at 3:02 pm

>We will get to debate around better estimates across the next years as the next level of engineering is complete, but I wanted to avert any misunderstanding created by the numbers you draw from. Furthermore, the $60 per ton I discussed was reasonably representative, but was only mentioned to be representative of how the capital investment would be recouped (in addition to sale of energy and sale of soil amendment.)

Huh?

Will plasma arc, for example, be compared and contrasted to anaerobic digestion? Will there be a a fully competitive request for bids among ALL possible contenders? $60 per ton is an immaginary number, for political purposes...if the various vendors demand $600 per ton, to fit the model of private captial, is that OK? HSR redux?

What sale of human sewage sludge compost? It will be the opposite: How much will we pay to get rid of the stuff? The sewage sludge producers are desperately looking for outlets, but they are experiencing significant push back. Palo Alto will face a perfect storm on this issue: No way to sell the stuff, but plenty of costs to bury it, or incinerate it. BTW, plasma arc could avoid most of this craziness.

The costs of zealotry are many, but to reduce it to local issues: It will cost us a ton of money (taxes), and it will not solve the problem of what to do with our wastes. Other than that, it is a curious thing to observe...very Palo Alto, in fact.


Posted by Cedric de La Beaujardiere, a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 6, 2012 at 5:18 am

Cedric de La Beaujardiere is a registered user.

@'common sense', you have a seriously mistaken assumption in your calculations: you assume a $133M CAPITAL cost, but this is one of the options' TOTAL cost over 20-years (Net Present Value). The $133M includes debt financing, operations, disposal of digested sewage, and revenue from sales of energy and non-sewage-based compost.

That $133M was for one of the more expensive options, because it was based on having two facilities: Wet AD for sewage and Dry AD for food, instead of an integrated facility.

If you look at the existing feasibility and report (Web Link) you could get answers to many of your questions and avoid drawing erroneous conclusions. (I had trouble downloading it tonight, but it could be my browser. If you have trouble, please let the city know and ask them to send you a copy.) (The study considered most realistic is 'Scenario 2, Simple DAD', but you need to get the version from 2012 which has important updates.)

The Request For Proposals (RFP) will ask vendors to give us their solutions for handling our food, yard, and sewage, the cost and financing options. The RFP will not pre-suppose specific solutions, so it could be 'haul it away', or local AD, or gasification, etc. There will be public meetings in the coming months for the public to weigh in on what criteria should be included in the RFP. The RFP will provide information needed to make an informed decision, but will not require the city to pursue any of the options: Council could decide to stick with the status quo of sending food and yard to compost in Southern Gilroy.

Here's how the 8 options in 'Scenario 2 Simple DAD' break down:
Alternative (Description):
NPV total cost over 20-years, Year 1 $/Ton, Year 20 $/Ton:
-------------------
Case 1a (Dry AD for Food, Yard, Sewage):
20-year NPV: $73M, Year 1: $87/Ton, Year 20: $53/Ton
-------------------
Case 1b (Dry AD for Food, Yard; Wet AD Sewage @ landfill):
20-year NPV: $134M, Year 1: $157/Ton, Year 20: $102/Ton
-------------------
Case 1c (Dry AD for Food, Yard; Wet AD Sewage @ sewage plant):
20-year NPV: $132M, Year 1: $156/Ton, Year 20: $101/Ton
-------------------
Case 1d (Dry AD for Food, Yard; Incinerated Sewage):
20-year NPV: $143M, Year 1: $108/Ton, Year 20: $454/Ton
-------------------
Alternative 2 (Food to San Jose Dry AD; Yard to Gilroy Compost; Incinerated Sewage):
20-year NPV: $135M, Year 1: $88/Ton, Year 20: $486/Ton
-------------------
Alternative 3 (Food & Yard to Gilroy Compost; Incinerated Sewage):
20-year NPV: $130M, Year 1: $84/Ton, Year 20: $477/Ton
-------------------
Alternative 2a (Food to San Jose Dry AD; Yard to Gilroy Compost; Wet AD Sewage):
20-year NPV: $117M, Year 1: $125/Ton, Year 20: $166/Ton
-------------------
Alternative 3a (Food & Yard to Gilroy Compost; Wet AD Sewage):
20-year NPV: $113M, Year 1: $120/Ton, Year 20: $158/Ton

The integrated local solution (Case 1a) was projected to cost about $40M less than the Alternatives 2a/3a of doing Wet AD of sewage and sending yard and food "away". The study also had the capital costs for Wet and Dry AD is approximately the same, so I anticipate similar financial advantage when we get the RFP results for local energy/compost.

Notice that the options with continued sewage incineration are cheap at first due to the existing (aging) incinerator, then SUPER expensive at the end due to the high-cost of a new incinerator ($152M construction cost if built today). Wisely, Council voted Monday to pursue a policy of retiring the incinerator (and not replacing it with another incinerator).


Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 6, 2012 at 8:59 am

>Case 1a (Dry AD for Food, Yard, Sewage):
20-year NPV: $73M, Year 1: $87/Ton, Year 20: $53/Ton

Where is the cost for landfill fees to get rid of the stuff?


Posted by Cedric de La Beaujardiere, a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 6, 2012 at 11:07 am

Cedric de La Beaujardiere is a registered user.

The economic assumptions of Case 1a are that food and sewage would be digested separately, and that the output of each stream would be composted with yard trimmings after digestion, and that, with regard to the costs of handling the compost for sales, the food-based compost would be sold at a small net profit, while the digested-composted-sewage would be sold but at no net profit or loss.

Note that the City of Santa Rosa has directly relevant experience and financial information (and you can see their process explained in photos and text and video at Web Link). Santa Rosa's waste water treatment facility was recently toured by members of the Palo Alto city staff, and they are the source for the following information. Santa Rosa does Wet AD for their sewage, and has three disposal methods for the digestion output: land-filling, direct land application, and composting. For the composting portion, which they handle on site, they mix about 1 part digestate with 4 parts wood chips and agricultural green waste, and compost it together. The compost sells for $6/cubic yard in bulk (agricultural land application) and $16/cy to residents. The facility produces 18,000 cubic yards per year, mostly sold to farms.

The direct land-application of digestate is more cost effective for them than the compost process. My understanding is that there is increasing resistance to direct land application of raw sewage but I don't know if digested sewage (which kills pathogens) is also being curtailed. Several months ago I spoke with someone who had designed their original compost system, and he indicated that Santa Rosa is expanding their compost facility and reducing the share that is landfilled, which is an indication that composting is a winning strategy especially compared to landfilling.


Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 6, 2012 at 11:48 am

>Note that the City of Santa Rosa has directly relevant experience and financial information (and you can see their process explained in photos and text and video at Web Link). Santa Rosa's waste water treatment facility was recently toured by members of the Palo Alto city staff, and they are the source for the following information. Santa Rosa does Wet AD for their sewage, and has three disposal methods for the digestion output: land-filling, direct land application, and composting. For the composting portion, which they handle on site, they mix about 1 part digestate with 4 parts wood chips and agricultural green waste, and compost it together. The compost sells for $6/cubic yard in bulk (agricultural land application) and $16/cy to residents. The facility produces 18,000 cubic yards per year, mostly sold to farms.

The problem is that there is a bulding public resistance to the application of human sewage sludge products to farm land, in fact any land (other than landfills). Any fesibility study for the Palo Alto situation should have an option built in, where it is assumed that all compost that includes human sewage sludge will need to be put in landfills. The tipping fees and hauling costs should be estimated in the final report. Case 1a does not reflect those potential costs.

Put in simple terms, Palo Alto may end up having to PAY to get rid of its own compost!



Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 6, 2012 at 1:13 pm

Here is an example of the perception problems that human sewage sludge products face (from San Francisco), even if given away for free:

Web Link


Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 6, 2012 at 2:36 pm

Here is an example of human sewage sluge ("biosolids") campaign, in Santa Rosa.

Web Link

This propaganda video is an attempt to get rid of human sewage sludge, under a euphemism: "biosolids". Santa Rosa, apparently, is quite happy to spread the stuff all over their vinyards, in that region. As they do so, the toxins from the human sewage sludge accumulates in the wines from that region.

It is sad that the local Palo Alto proponents of human sewage sludge composting fail to recognize the risk that we, in PA, would be taking by accepting their model. Human sewage sludge cannot be allowed into the mixture, unless we want to face major liability and cost issues. The proponents sold their cause, with an assurance that the sewage sludge issue would be be solved. I submit that it has not, and will not, be solved, using their model. We will end up with a HUGE utility tax increase, in order to REVERSE their folly.


Posted by Cedric de La Beaujardiere, a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 7, 2012 at 1:51 pm

Cedric de La Beaujardiere is a registered user.

Craig, I have two recommendations for you:

1) You've been a proponent of plasma arc. If you know of any plasma arc companies, I would encourage you to let them know about the RFP once it comes out. If there are good plasma arc proposals that are generated, and the process is environmentally sound, it could be picked, I know it has a small footprint.

2) The RFP is not out yet, it will be shaped by public and Council input, so you may wish to attend the community meetings and/or submit comments by email, to push for the environmental criteria you think the respondents should meet, or the types of testing of compost which would ensure its safety for use.

When looking at the potentially problematic content of compost soil amendments, it is important to compare their concentrations to what is found naturally in the region's soils, as well as to what are considered safe versus harmful concentrations.

The Regional Water Quality Control Plant (RWQCP, aka sewage treatment plant) has made strong progress in reducing contamination upstream, before it gets into the pipes, and online you can find their reports of pollutant concentrations (I think I've previously posted the link in these forums, I don't have time now to look it up again).

Having a local facility gives us much more control over the handling of these materials and whether to try to remove pollutants, or send polluted material to landfill, or decide that the concentrations are safe, and decide how to label the product. The alternative is to haul away all our organics, and then we have zero control over what happens with it. The receiver could easily compost and sell it in bags that say "organic compost" like the SF group did, and we'd have no control over that.

So I see a local facility as an opportunity to control pollutants according to our own community's standards, and that is why people who are concerned about these things should participate constructively in the process of setting the criteria for the RFP, rather than ineffectively and anonymously lash out at the city in online forums. Which reminds me of one more piece of Civics 101 advice for the public: people who behave civilly in public meetings are much better heard and heeded. I've been to lots of public meetings, and seen disruptive people fail to get their point across because their belligerence turns people off.


Posted by Robert, a resident of Greater Miranda
on Jul 7, 2012 at 1:56 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 7, 2012 at 2:22 pm

>You've been a proponent of plasma arc. If you know of any plasma arc companies, I would encourage you to let them know about the RFP once it comes out

Cedric, will you join me in insisting that the plasma arc companies be invited to be part of the conversation, from the beginning? If not, why not?

>Having a local facility gives us much more control over the handling of these materials and whether to try to remove pollutants, or send polluted material to landfill, or decide that the concentrations are safe, and decide how to label the product. The alternative is to haul away all our organics, and then we have zero control over what happens with it.

No, Cedric. A rational technology, like plasma arc, eliminates most of your concerns and allegations. Will you join me in supporting plasma arc? Or will you continue to support an old broken technology, like anaerobic digestion(AD)?

AD, somehow (political), got traction in Palo Alto. I think it might be because it 'seems green'. It is also caught up in the 'zero waste' fanaticism. However, it is a real loser, in the long run.

Will you join me, Cedric, in supporting a serious look at plasma arc? Can you, possibly, break away from Peter D. and Bob W., in order to form an independent analysis of the issues?


Posted by An Engineer, a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 9, 2012 at 11:52 am

"There are many more engineers in the community watching this project than the libraries."

True, and they're shaking their heads, rolling their eyes, and softly chuckling at the city government's pretensions to technological prowess.


Posted by Cedric de La Beaujardiere, a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 12, 2012 at 1:41 pm

Cedric de La Beaujardiere is a registered user.

Craig, you would be a much better bearer of the Plasma Arc banner than I, which is why I suggested you get involved directly through the public outreach process. I see nothing in the RFP discussions so far that would prevent such companies from submitting bids. While I think Plasma Arc may have merit, I would need more information about emissions, costs, etc., and I'm not convinced it is the best technology for raw sewage which, even when dewatered, is like 75% water, so the process is wasting a lot of energy turning water into steam instead of organics into energy.

This is just speculative here: On concerns some in the public may have about Plasma Arc being "incineration" (which I do not believe), it could be that one process could be Wet AD for sewage (and maybe food) and directly dewater the ouput and send that to a Plasma Arc, in which case you could conceivably keep it all oxygen free and avoid oxidation/combustion-related pollutants.


Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 12, 2012 at 2:20 pm

Cedric,

>On concerns some in the public may have about Plasma Arc being "incineration" (which I do not believe)...

Good for you Cedric. Accepting a scientific truth is a first step. Plasma arc is NOT combustion, but incineration is.

Here is my essential problem:

1. Anaerobic digestion (AD) was sold to Palo Altans as a solution to both sewage sludge and yard trimmings; the food waste came in later, but it is part of the mix.

2. Any "compost" that involves including human sewage sludge is probably a dead duck, going forward, with very large costs to us taxpayers.

3. Given 1 & 2: What to do with human sewage sludge? Incinerate it? Landfill? Plasma arc (with supplemental fuels, like plastic and used tires?).

IMO, the most efficient thing would probably be plasma arc, for all of it, including our own garbage. However, there are other approaches, including trucking everything to the SMaRT transfrer station, inclduing sewage sludge, sort it out there, then use plasma arc to generate electricity.

It would behoove those who support the AD concept to compromise, even if it means that their ideology is denied, in the end.


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