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Could Hawaii County face fines if insufficient trash supplied to proposed incinerator?


One of the finalists for Hawaii County’s waste-to-energy incinerator is expected to penalize the City and County of Honolulu big bucks for not providing enough garbage for its plant last year.

But Hawaii County Environmental Management Director Bobby Jean Leithead Todd said Tuesday the Big Island isn’t likely to run into the same problem because it’s planning a much smaller facility. Hawaii County intends to rely mostly on East Hawaii garbage for its plant, leaving West Hawaii’s garbage, and likely ash from the incinerator, for the landfill at Puuanahulu.

“The facility we’re looking at is less than the total amount of trash that we’re hauling from this side of the island,” Leithead Todd said.

At issue is a “put or pay” provision in the contract Honolulu has with Covanta Energy Corp. for its HPower incinerator. The city fell 121,000 tons short of its required 800,000 tons of garbage last year, kicking off a clause in the contract that requires the city to pay for a portion of the revenues Covanta lost from selling power to Hawaiian Electric Co., said Markus Owens, a spokesman for Honolulu’s Environmental Management Services.

“We’ll make it this year, but last year we did not,” Owens said.

Owens said Covanta hasn’t billed the city yet, so he doesn’t know how much it will cost. He acknowledged his agency has prepared a “ballpark estimate” for the Honolulu City Council’s meeting today, but he declined to tell West Hawaii Today what that estimate is.

Covanta representatives contacted at three locations could not be reached Tuesday afternoon to provide more information.

Hawaii County’s proposed incinerator would handle 300 tons of garbage per day. That would generate 156 megawatts daily, enough energy to power about 6,520 homes, displacing 32,600 barrels of oil, according to estimates.

The county is still negotiating a power purchase contract with Hawaii Electric Light Co., so no figures have been finalized.

The two other finalists for the Hawaii County plant are Green Conversion Systems Inc., which recently was chosen to build an incinerator for the city of Los Angeles; and Wheelabrator Technologies Inc., which won a $125 million bid to build an incinerator in 2008 before the project was killed by the Hawaii County Council.

Hawaii County has sought proposals for a 300 ton-per-day facility. In January, the West Hawaii landfill handled an average of 263 tons per day, while the Hilo landfill handled 188 tons per day, according to an Environmental Management Department report. The county plans to shift the output of transfer stations on the north and south ends of the island away from West Hawaii and toward Hilo.

The Puuanahulu landfill is operated under a long-term contract by Waste Management Inc., and the county must send a minimum of 200 tons per day there. Leithead Todd said that’s doable even after drawing off some of the garbage.

Incineration of mixed municipal solid waste is expected to leave residuals and ash. Ash reduces the volume of landfill space required by 85 percent to 90 percent, but it retains 30 percent of the weight, she said. Unlike in some other states, the Hawaii Department of Health doesn’t allow the ash to be reused, such as in asphalt, and the state may require the ash to be disposed of at a lined landfill such as Puuanahulu, she said.

The Hilo landfill, which is unlined, has two years left unless the county steepens one remaining slope. That would give the Hilo landfill eight years lifespan figuring in the current waste stream.

Kenoi has reassured the County Council that opening a waste-to-energy facility could be accomplished without sacrificing the county’s recycling programs or having to process green waste, which council members have said should go into a composting program for farming and landscaping.