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Palo Alto Green Energy and Compost Initiative Qualifies for November Ballot

posted Mar 24, 2011, 2:23 PM by Bob Wenzlau
March 24, 2011

Proponents of the Palo Alto Green Energy and Compost Initiative received word yesterday that their measure has qualified for the November ballot.  Donna Grider, Palo Alto's City Clerk, notified the campaign that the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters tallied 5,128 valid signatures out of the 6,023 submitted.  4,356 valid signatures were needed to qualify the Initiative for the ballot.

The measure will ask voters to repurpose 10 acres of the 126-acre City landfill for a biological conversion facility that would turn the City's 60,000 tons per year of organic waste into green energy and compost once the landfill closes, which is expected to happen in the next year.  Otherwise, the entire landfill would be added to Byxbee Park, although no dedicated funds currently exist for that project.  10 acres is roughly 8% of the 126-acre landfill.

"We're excited, but not surprised," said Carolyn Curtis, the campaign's volunteer signature gathering coordinator.  "We had a tremendous team of more than 60 volunteers who dedicated hundreds of hours to collecting signatures, and we got great results.  Only 2% of respondents refused to sign our petition because they disagreed with it."

"This is the first activist effort like this I've ever been involved in, and I've ended up with great admiration and respect for everyone who has done the research, spent the time, and followed through until results were achieved," said Lois Fowkes, a long-time Palo Alto resident and signature gatherer for the petition.

The campaign received other good news on Monday night at a City Council study session when the consultant for a feasibility study on the project acknowledged that building an anaerobic digester in Palo Alto would be cheaper than the alternatives of continuing to incinerate sewage sludge and trucking food and yard waste to Gilroy and San Jose if the City pursued public versus private financing for the project.  The consultant also acknowledged that the feasibility study missed a number of costs for the off-site alternatives that will be included in the final draft of the study that is expected to come back to Council in June.  Big-ticket items include the cost of rebuilding the City's sludge incinerators, assigning a price on greenhouse gas emissions, and applying a contingency to the Gilroy and San Jose alternatives as was done for the Palo Alto option.

Cedric de La Beaujardiere, former Co-Chair of the City's Blue Ribbon Task Force on Composting and a proponent of the Green Energy and Compost Initiative, calculated that once these costs are included, building an anaerobic digestion facility in Palo Alto would save the City between $30 and $38 million over the first 20 years, and considerably more after that.

"We used the consultant's financial model and plugged in what we felt were conservative numbers to see what would happen if we included the cost of building new incinerators, a modest price on carbon dioxide emissions and a 15% contingency on the San Jose project," said de La Beaujardiere.  "The results showed that the Palo Alto option would save the City between $1.5 and $2 million per year.  And that's only for the first 20 years.  After that, the facility would be paid off, and the City would save considerably more money.  The price per ton for processing our organic waste would drop from $106 to $65 per ton.  Compare that to the $118 per ton it would cost to truck our waste elsewhere and continue incinerating our sewage sludge."

The preliminary feasibility study also concluded that, compared to trucking away the City's food and yard wastes and continuing to incinerate its sewage sludge, building an anaerobic digester in Palo Alto would reduce the City's carbon dioxide emissions by 12,000 tons per year, the equivalent of taking 1,600 cars off the road.  Since all the options would stop sending food waste to landfills, the anaerobic digester's total reductions from current practices are closer to 20,000 tons per year.

"Imagine that, we could make tremendous progress toward reaching our Climate Protection Plan goals while saving tens of millions of dollars," said de La Beaujardiere."

A chart of de La Beaujardiere's financial analysis is attached
Bob Wenzlau,
Mar 24, 2011, 2:24 PM