A First Pass Over Technical Memo 4

WGTB logo PNG 112x89 Post 32 in a series. When Green Turns Brown is an examination of a small town’s digester-energy project, in which Whitewater, Wisconsin would import other cities’ waste, claiming that the result would be both profitable and green.

In the next several posts will consider a proposal for energy production though Whitewater’s digesters, including upgrades to those digesters, and waste-importation into the city.  Here’s the order in which those posts will appear:

  • Today, a first pass over Technical Memo 4 (“Technical Memorandum 4 Digestion Complex and Energy Production”), in which I’ll ask preliminary questions based on the document.
  • A review of the several presentations that the Donohue firm (or city officials) have made about the project (6.17.14, 7.15.14, 12.16.14, 3.3.15, 3.16.15, 5.28.15, 6.23.15). Update, 9.29.15: I would also add public remarks from City Manager Clapper in a state of the city address on 9.17.15.)
  • A return to Technical Memo 4 after that review, to look at the memo again after having considered presentations that implicate it.

After this portion of When Green Turns Brown, I’ll next look at the questions that I’ve posed, decide which key questions lack answers from public officials or the various vendors connected to the project, and will submit public records requests based on those questions.  As with the entire series, I’ll publish those records requests here, at the time that they’re submitted to the city.  It’s an orderly, deliberate process. SeeSteps for Blogging on a Policy or Proposal.

(Every question in this series has a unique number, assigned chronologically based on when it was asked.  All the questions from When Green Turns Brown can be found in the Question Bin.  Today’s questions begin with No. 175.)

175.  In Chapter III, Donohue describes the costs associated with the project as one of three kinds:

Each improvement alternative will be categorized as listed below.
Essential – Improvements that are essential to maintaining a safe and properly functioning anaerobic digestion system and biosolids land application program.
Recommended – Improvements that either address issues that will become critical in the 20-year planning horizon or they enhance performance, efficiency, and/or cost effectiveness.
Discretionary – Improvements that warrant consideration because they add value in some manner: tangible or intangible.

Looking at the list of possible expenditures (page 12), is there a single item necessary for expanded waste-importation that appears in the firm’s essential category?

176.  If there’s not a single item related to expanded waste-importation that’s essential to this project, shouldn’t that increase the burden of justification for proceeding?  That is, City Manager Clapper and Wastewater Superintendent Reel may want to import high-strength waste from other cities into Whitewater, but why do they need to do so?

177.  If the answer should be revenue-generation, then why do Messrs. Clapper and Reel think that increasing the amount of high-strength industrial waste in Whitewater is their optimal means of revenue-generation?  That is, of all the possible ideas to bolster the city budget, why this one?

178.  Is the idea of waste-importation into Whitewater an idea that’s uniquely theirs, or has it been suggested to them?  If it’s been suggested to them, who has suggested it to them?  Are any of those suggesting the idea from Whitewater, either in city government, at the Community Development Authority, or among the big-business lobby in Whitewater?

179.  If waste-importation isn’t essential by Donohue’s own estimation, to whose benefit (cui bono) is it?

180.  Where’s the Trane study?  After all, Donohue’s own assessment directly cites Trane’s work:

In 2014 Trane and Black & Veatch conducted a Feasibility Study that evaluated the possibility of utilizing the facility’s unused anaerobic digestion capacity to treat high strength hauled in waste to generate additional biogas to produce energy. The study examined adding high strength waste receiving facilities, improvements to the existing digesters, biogas treatment systems, biogas storage, and biogas utilization equipment. The study concluded that a large energy generation project was not cost effective.

Donohue writes that this study was conducted in 2014, yet it’s not been published despite being a public record, of a public project, authorized at public expense.

181.  What’s the relationship, if any, between waste-importation and the City of Whitewater’s professed goal (as Donohue describes it) of the “option of producing a sellable water product [that] is of major interest to the city.”

182.  How much waste by volume would Whitewater have to import from other cities to meet the minimum, supposed revenue-generation goals of this project?

183.  How much waste by volume could Whitewater import from other cities after this upgrade? 

184.  Where would the waste go after processing in the digester – not generally, but specifically.

185.  Donohue writes on page 6 about discretionary “[i]mprovements that warrant consideration because they add value in some manner: tangible or intangible.”  On a construction and waste-importing project of this kind, what does Donohue – or anyone else advocating for the project – think the intangible values would be?

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