Town Square

Post a New Topic

Palo Alto holds out hope for energy plant at Baylands site

Original post made on Apr 4, 2023

Tensions between Palo Alto's green camps resurfaced on Monday night as the City Council weighed two competing visions for a 10-acre site in the Baylands and agreed to leave the door open for a future energy facility near Byxbee Park.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, April 4, 2023, 12:59 AM

Comments (14)

Posted by Mondoman
a resident of Green Acres
on Apr 4, 2023 at 9:01 am

Mondoman is a registered user.

Disappointed to read comments like "When are we going to be the city that takes care of our own stuff?" We don't grow our own food. We don't manufacture our own cars. We don't generate most of our own power. It makes sense to specialize.

Posted by MikeMor
a resident of Professorville
on Apr 4, 2023 at 10:26 am

MikeMor is a registered user.

I think that living in a city that takes care of its own stuff is a social responsibility... especially in a prosperous city such as Palo Alto. It is time we reduce shipping our waste to poorer communities.

IMHO Lythcott-Haims is the smartest member of the Palo Alto City Council

Posted by stephen levy
a resident of University South
on Apr 4, 2023 at 10:40 am

stephen levy is a registered user.

Good decision. Thanks to the council.

Posted by Fred Balin
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 4, 2023 at 11:16 am

Fred Balin is a registered user.

In 2014, when proposals came in for a composting facility for the Measure E site, the least expensive bid was twice as much as we were paying to haul green-bin items to Gilroy, 50 miles away. It now travels only 12 miles to a large dry anaerobic digestion facility in San Jose, 12 miles away, with which we could not compete financially due to economies of scale. Local is not always feasible.

Incinerated sewage went 285 miles to Kettelman Hills. Once we stopped burning it, the travel distance with sludge is much shorter, to Fairfield (as I heard last night), 76 miles.

If there is a local way that costs less -- not to mention make $$s as touted in 2011 -- bring it forward, vet it the proper way, identify the ideal location, conduct environmental review, and if on parkland, put it in the ballot.

Limbo was the wrong decision last night and a breach of an implicit trust to 2011 voters. In any case, you can no longer use two-thirds of the site without costly uncapping and removing methane piping and other infrastructure underneath, and the other third, including the wildlife corridor will continue to deteriorate, until last night's proponents have their ultimate way on the site and it is irreparably damaged.

Posted by Sherry Listgarten
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Apr 4, 2023 at 12:53 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

Fred, I agree, and I am so bummed that I forgot to weigh in last night. What I was going to say was the following:

1. As a voter, I feel burned by this. I did vote for Measure E years ago, but the context now is completely different. We are managing our waste very responsibly, our city is increasingly under parked, and development and climate change are providing more stressors for wildlife. I would not have voted for it in this context, and I resent this misappropriation of my intention to reserve parkland for a specific use.

This sort of bait-and-switch reminds me of High Speed Rail. We voted for one price, and now it is an entirely different price. Our vote seems to have been taken for a ride.

2. When I spoke a few years ago with the guy who runs our composting operation, he said that the real trick with all of this stuff is finding and nurturing a market for the materials that the processes produce. So one way for Palo Alto to make a meaningful difference, if it wants to, is to be an active purchaser of the materials from the plants, either where we take our waste, or from the pyrolysis plant in RWC.

3. This strikes me, and I am loathe to say it but I will, as a vanity project. I cannot otherwise understand why it is so important that we overhaul yet again, at great expense, a pretty darned good process that we have in place now. The plants that we are using have good modern practices and the transportation is minimal. Our partners are perfectly happy with it.

4. My takeaway from this is that people just don't assign any value to the parkland as such. That is a gross misunderstanding, but it is typical of people who just see what they see, a barren stretch next to a water plant where they wouldn't picnic. And that is because that is what we've made of it, not what it could be.

I am very disappointed with the vote, and angry with myself for not showing up.

Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 4, 2023 at 1:44 pm

Anonymous is a registered user.

I prefer it to be restored to parkland. The Baylands are special and I value the nature preserve and the nature in it.
I agree with the various ecology nonprofit organizations.
It’s incorrect thinking to claim we must incinerate all our trash here, etc. As was stated, we don’t grow all our food here….or manufacture all Palo Alto’s electric cars in this city, etc….for a random example of mine…

Posted by Rose
a resident of Mayfield
on Apr 4, 2023 at 2:06 pm

Rose is a registered user.

If I understand the details correctly, where Palo Alto's waste is currently processed, those systems produce methane and they don't destroy the PFAS.

Yet even more methane is produced by trucking our waste many miles for processing elsewhere, and, more than one truck per day.

Last, the Redwood City pyrolysis plant is only processing half of Redwood City's needs. They don't have the capacity to take any of Palo Alto's waste.

As several council members mentioned, it would also be more socially equitable to process our own waste rather than ship it to poorer regions.

We have an existential climate crisis. Processing our waste so we don't create methane, but rather produce energy AND eliminate PFAS might be expensive, but it is more than worth it.

Posted by TuppenceT
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 4, 2023 at 6:56 pm

TuppenceT is a registered user.

Thank you @Sherry Listgarten for providing such a clear and heartfelt depiction.

Posted by anon1234
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 5, 2023 at 9:18 am

anon1234 is a registered user.

Thank to Fred and Sherry for speaking the truth.
There is no clear evidence that having our own pyrolysis center will be better for the environment and no reason to think that sharing facilities is not superior to destroying important habitat.
I fear that thus technology is not the solution and will go the way of the technology that failed for the last eleven years.
It will take years and a expert consultant for the overworked staff to evaluate this newest technology……
Just kicking the can down the road while the important habitat further degrades is shameful.
Despite the legal nuance of “may “ versus “shall “ it was clearly the will and expectation of the voters to give the site a decade to be developed and that if those efforts failed to manifest, restore it to nature.
Mayor Kou us correct to label the Cc majority dishonest.

Posted by ArtL
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 5, 2023 at 12:39 pm

ArtL is a registered user.

Has anyone in the City questioned the Odor of a composting or pyrolosis plant? At the Public Works Open House I asked someone from Greenwaste about their plant in the Alviso area of the South Bay..this was the type of plant that supporters had pitched in 2011 for the site in our Baylands. The Greenwaste representative said 'you can smell it' quite a distance away..

Posted by David Bubenik
a resident of University South
on Apr 5, 2023 at 2:44 pm

David Bubenik is a registered user.

A dozen years ago Palo Alto voters bought the promise of making clean energy from garbage on this site, via the purported miracle of Anaerobic Digestion. But for various good reasons nothing was built.

The atmosphere lucked out. The CO2 emissions of an anaerobic digester fueled electric generator are whoppingly huge: 140% of the CO2 emissions of that benchmark of dirty energy, the coal fired generator. Building a coal burning generator would have been much "greener." The analysis showing this is quite straightforward. It is available at

Now the buzzword is Pyrolysis. What will the next bright butterfly be? I wryly wonder how our city could have afforded to follow these trends, rebuilding an anaerobic-digester based electric generator plant into a waste pyrolyzer, and then into ... ?

But seriously, we must ask what the real greenhouse gas emissions of a pyrolysis operation might be, for various energy input options. Any takers? Show your work.

Posted by PA resident
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 5, 2023 at 7:40 pm

PA resident is a registered user.

Thank you Council for recognizing that we should explore ways for Palo Alto to process as much of its own bio- and green waste as possible in an environmentally-responsible way. Council directed City staff to develop a plan to investigate the feasibility and costs to build a processing facility at the Measure E site. Pyrolysis is a promising technology that Redwood City began using a few years ago, and we can learn from its experience. It would likely produce less GHG than the truck trips currently taking sewage sludge to the Central Valley and green waste to the South Bay. And pyrolysis could neutralize the harmful PFAS "forever chemicals" in the sewage that ends up being deposited as fertilizer in Central Valley fields.

The Measure E site covers 1/2 of 1% of the 1,940 acres of the Baylands, which already is mainly parkland and open space. A facility would likely not need the full 10 acres, so a portion could be used for a wildlife corridor. And while the ideal of added parkland is often compelling, we’re talking about the site where the garbage dump used to be and that is next to the sewage treatment plant. It also gets noise and emissions from planes flying at altitudes of 100-200 feet into Palo Alto Airport. Almost all aircraft using PAO run on leaded fuel. The EPA recently issued a proposed finding that lead emissions from such aircraft engines “cause or contribute to air pollution that may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health and welfare.” So this is not pristine parkland. Some commenters argue that because we do not only eat food grown in Palo Alto, we shouldn’t have to process our own organic waste, which is a red herring. But they may be happy that the City will continue to truck all refuse and recyclables elsewhere in any event.

Posted by felix
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 6, 2023 at 9:00 am

felix is a registered user.

1-2 truckloads of our sludge is trucked 75 miles away to Fairfield daily.

Are these trucks electric? They may be. If not, convert them.

Given PA generates only 1-up 2 truck loads of sludge daily, it’s more than likely we would need to contract with other local cities for them to truck their sludge here to make it work economically to build and run a pyrolysis facility (or it may not be feasible even then).

This would get us many daily sludge-loaded truck trips coming into our Baylands from other cities.

Have you seen photos of a pyrolysis facility (a photo is online of RWCs)? Major infrastructure. Boggling to actually think of it in our Baylands.

Pyrolysis itself is controversial as to how much climate harming gases, and toxicity in the char it produces. Google it.

1-2 truckloads a day, in electric fueled vehicles, 75 miles inland to Fairfield to convert our sludge to compost seems economically and environmentally sound and sensible compared to having our very own pyrolysis plant produce char.

Posted by MyFeelz
a resident of another community
on Apr 9, 2023 at 9:01 pm

MyFeelz is a registered user.

We import everything we consume here in PA. It only makes sense to export the resulting waste back to wherever it came from. But, being that it is too expensive to ship it, it is incumbent on us as a community and as a civilized society, to find a way to make use of what we have excreted here. I have said many times, if Elon Musk was really all that and a bag of chips, he would learn how to convert poop into fuel. Instead of batteries that if they catch fire, they burn uncontrolled for days. But if he did that, it would mean we could run our own cars by using our own waste. He would be putting himself out of a job. Because once he builds a container for it, the car will run forever without needing to produce the next "better" battery can he's curently building. The technology is there. Nobody is using it. You can't convince me that someone over 150 years ago thought of how to power an engine using liquid fuel, and then in the ensuing 150 years we got so stupid we can't figure out a better way without destroying the earth. Our gas ovens and water heaters are not the problem. It's our cars that are killing our planet.

Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.


Post a comment

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Stay informed.

Get the day's top headlines from Palo Alto Online sent to your inbox in the Express newsletter.

Worried about the cost of climate change? Here is some hope.
By Sherry Listgarten | 23 comments | 3,385 views

Two Hours - 75,000 Meals – Wanna Help?
By Laura Stec | 0 comments | 1,841 views


Sign-up now for 5K Run/Walk, 10k Run, Half Marathon

The 39th annual Moonlight Run and Walk is Friday evening, September 29. Join us under the light of the full Harvest Moon on a 5K walk, 5K run, 10K run or half marathon. Complete your race in person or virtually. Proceeds from the race go to the Palo Alto Weekly Holiday Fund, benefiting local nonprofits that serve families and children in Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties.