As we move toward spring, I’m looking forward to the warmer weather, sunny days, and the light breezes of spring. Well, sort of…
I’d like to not be able to smell the ammonia and various hydrogen sulfides that those breezes bring in from the west. In fact, I’ve lived here for over 20 years and it doesn’t seem like we’re any closer to a solution now than we were when I arrived. The current situation, where we have an inability to identify the source of the odor — between the landfill, the wastewater treatment center, and the ZWED anaerobic digester — seems to offer up a super lame excuse. I’m sure we have bright folks working on this, and maybe there’s a good explanation, but it sure escapes this Milpitas layman. Perhaps it’s time to put a few crazy ideas on the table…?
First, the existing enforcement approach (let’s call this “the stick approach”) will almost certainly ensure that we won’t get any real solution anytime soon. This approach demands that folks send in reports of odor(s), after which it will take time to investigate to validate those claims, and then some amount of time to identify the source and finally, maybe, fix the problem. And ah, of course we’ll penalize the offender with some sort of fine. But let’s not mention the large legal costs involved in making that fine happen, and then the follow-up enforcement measures…
Meanwhile, Milpitians suffer, having to deal with the smell. I know that the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) is doing their best, and we do need them to do it. But, we live here in the valley of innovation, and this is all we can do? There’s got to be a better way!
While I’m no expert, I believe it makes sense to develop solutions to proactively eliminate the problem (more “the carrot approach”). As the odors emanate into the air, it is our easterly breezes that carry them into Milpitas. So, how do we limit the odors from getting into the air?
What about having a solar panel farm? Having the panels over the landfill, as a start, would keep the odors from escaping high into the air for our breezes to then carry them. Then, placing sprayers at the “ceiling” of those panels to spray a solution of sodium bicarbonate periodically will work wonders toward eliminating the hydrogen sulfide gas, which is generally the odor culprit. Then maybe add a pass of a vinegar solution to deal with the ammonia, as that’s the other major odor source. This is analogous to the idea of spraying Febreze to eliminate odors at the household level.
Here’s the “carrot” part: This idea provides the landfill with another source of revenue, from “generating” clean and relatively inexpensive electricity to, say, Milpitas, as we have been the city most affected by the odors (similar to the city of Santa Clara having their own electrical plant, except ours would be a solar farm instead of generators). If the numbers work and/or the plan is properly incentivized, the landfill operator may choose to embrace it, rather than facing countless odor investigations, fines, and high attorney fees.
This approach would be a win-win: Milpitians would get fewer instances of odor-filled air and, hopefully, cheaper electricity, while the landfill could operate safely as a landfill, recycling plant, and clean electric generator. And, of course, they’d get some brownie points for being environmentally friendly while adding another source of revenue.
And while they’re at it, they can expand their methane-collecting operation, perhaps putting electric generators onsite and convincing PG&E to provide a line to them, so they could generate electricity using the collected methane, thus further increasing their electrical generation capability. They almost certainly would get a federal tax credit for their use of biofuels (but check with your tax experts on that one!), and add to their company’s reputation as an innovative partner to the surrounding cities.
As I said, I’m no expert, but since experts haven’t come up with a solution in the last 20 years, it’s time to think outside the box. Anyway: Anyone else have any “crazy ideas”? Because we are all sick of the odor…