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Garbage plant may not be a burner

March 7, 2014 - 12:05am

Hawaii County officials want garbage diverted from the Hilo landfill and turned into something useful. While waste-to-energy incinerators are the first thing that comes to mind, the ultimate facility may not be a burner.

A request for proposals the county issued Monday leaves the type of facility open. Instead, the county is looking for a contractor that will finance, design, permit and build a plant on its own dime. In return, the county will guarantee payment of a tipping fee for 93,075 to 98,550 tons of solid waste per year and allow the contractor to keep the proceeds from sale of residuals, energy or fuel produced by the plant.

In Maui County, for example, the recently contracted plant doesn’t produce electricity.

Maui’s facility will include a recyclable materials recovery facility to separate recyclables such as metals, glass, plastic, cardboard and paper. The waste then will be further separated into digestible organic fraction and residual matter.

The organic fraction will go to a closed anaerobic digester, which will produce renewable natural gas and other marketable commodities. The residual matter will be processed into a so-called “refuse-derived fuel,” chunks that can be burned like coal.

While electric utilities can burn the coal-like chunks to produce electricity, a spokesman for Maui County’s contractor, Anaergia, said the chunks can be used in a variety of industries.

“We’re actively negotiating long-term agreements with companies who are interested in buying fuels,” said Karl Bossert, director of business development for Anaergia.

Honolulu, however, has recently added a mass-burn furnace to the two refuse-derived fuel burners it already operates.

Maui chose the fuel route after three years of unsuccessful negotiations with Maui Electric Co., the Hawaiian Electric Co. subsidiary on that island.

“Maui County made a conscious decision to not rely on a (power purchase agreement) with MECO. For the last three years, MECO has maintained its position that there are significant challenges to them accepting power produced by a facility of this nature,” said Kyle Ginoza, Maui environmental management director, in an email. “Consequently, the County of Maui went in a direction which did not rely on butting heads with one of our community partners.”

Hawaii County Mayor Billy Kenoi said he’s been in informal conversations with Hawaii Electric Light Co., the Big Island HECO subsidiary. But a contract can’t be negotiated until a specific technology is chosen, both sides say.

“Until the county can come up with something specific, our hands are tied,” said HECO spokesman Peter Rosegg. “We are certainly open to having discussions with the county.”

The request for proposals Hawaii County issued is the first phase of a process that will be followed July 15 by a more detailed solicitation to three of the companies that responded to the first round.

If all goes as planned, a vendor will be selected Jan. 25, with a contract signed April 15, 2015. The contract will likely have a 20-year term.

The county has offered land near the existing Hilo landfill for the plant. Residuals from the operation of the plant can be disposed of at the Hilo landfill and the Puuanahulu landfill in West Hawaii, under the request for proposals. The county is also offering the use of its current reload building/sort station near the landfill as a tipping floor.

“The Reload Building will also provide the capability to reload and transfer waste to be hauled to the Puuanahulu (landfill) during times when the Waste Reduction Facility is non-operational,” according to the request for proposals.

The county came close to building a waste-to-energy incinerator in 2008 under former Mayor Harry Kim’s administration. The County Council killed the plan because of concerns about the $125 million price tag.

Kenoi’s more recent presentation to the council’s Finance Committee showed a generally favorable attitude from the council, however. Council members, as well as the administration, are concerned that the Hilo landfill will reach capacity in five years or so with no alternatives available, other than trucking garbage to the West Hawaii landfill.

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