Palo Alto's compost debate resumes tonight

City Council to discuss potential costs of building a waste-to-energy facility in Byxbee Park

Proponents and opponents of Palo Alto's proposed waste-to-energy plant will have a chance to bring their respective cases to the City Council tonight (March 21), as the council considers a new study evaluating the facility's cost.

The council is scheduled to discuss the preliminary results from a feasibility study evaluating various options for an anaerobic digestion facility -- a plant that would convert food scraps, yard trimmings and potentially sewage sludge into energy. The study, conducted by the firm Alternative Resources, Inc., is scheduled to be completed in the fall.

So far, the biggest point of contention is the proposed location of the new plant -- a 9-acre site in Byxbee Park that currently houses the city's landfill. The landfill is scheduled to close next year, after which time the site is slated to convert to parkland. A large coalition of local environmentalists is leading an effort to "undedicate" the parkland and make it possible to use the land for a new plant. The group, led by former Palo Alto Mayor Peter Drekmeier, has already gathered more than enough signatures to place the issue on the November ballot.

The preliminary results from the feasibility study indicate the new plant would likely cost substantially more in the short term than shipping local compost and food scraps to regional facilities. According to the study, Palo Alto's ratepayers would have to pay between $100 and $200 per ton in tipping fees for a new anaerobic digestion facility, compared to about $70 per ton for shipping food scraps to San Jose and yard trimmings to Gilroy.

If the city proceeds with the current plan of shipping yard trimmings and food scraps to other cities in the region, it would still have to figure out what to do about sewage sludge, which it currently incinerates. Drekmeier and other proponents of a local plant argue that the new study doesn't consider the cost of maintaining and possibly replacing the incinerators.

The council meeting will begin at 6 p.m. in the Council Chambers at City Hall, 250 Hamilton Ave.

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