Waste-to-Resources or Resources-to-Waste?

Clean Energy Solutions

“New study, same arguments in Palo Alto’s compost debate”

As Palo Alto residents consider whether to shut down their incinerator and rededicate 10 acres of capped landfill (i.e., “parkland”) to make room for a sustainable, waste-to-resource energy facility, they need not discuss the proposal in abstract terms—they can simply observe the tremendous success enjoyed by neighboring municipalities presently using the same technology.

For almost 30 years, the East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) in Oakland has been using anaerobic digestion to transform its sewage into methane gas. This “biogas” is functionally identical to natural gas; it can generate heat, electricity, and transportation fuel. Today, with the addition of local food waste, EBMUD produces enough biogas at its West Oakland plant to cover nearly all of its own energy costs. Last year this translated into nearly $3 million in ratepayer savings, while dramatically reducing municipal waste and greenhouse gas emissions.

EBMUD is not the only forward-thinking utility employing this technology. Across the country—from Millbrae, California, to Waco, Texas; Des Moines, Iowa; Milton, Pennsylvania; and Boston, Massachusetts—others are doing the same and achieving similar cost-savings. This is proof that anaerobic digestion is not only a superior form of waste management and clean energy generation; it is also the most cost-effective option available.

Meanwhile, Palo Alto residents are spending tens of millions of dollars to incinerate what their neighbors recognize as a source of revenue and renewable energy. This is worse than a mere missed opportunity—the term “incinerator” is little more than an inelegant euphemism for what the device actually is: a pollution manufacturing facility. Why is the home of Stanford University choosing to subsidize pollution when it can earn a return on locally-produced clean energy?

This fall, residents have the opportunity to transform one of Palo Alto’s worst environmental liabilities into a profitable model of sustainable development.  Isn’t this a worthwhile exchange for 10 acres of landfilled “parkland”?