Updated 

Kenoi: No more landfill studies

Correction
This article that ran in the Feb. 27 edition of West Hawaii Today incorrectly characterized the status of Maui County’s planned waste reduction facility. The project is ongoing as a facility that will produce liquefied natural gas and a solid coal substitute. After failing following three years of negotiations to strike an agreement with Maui Electric Co., Maui County chose a technology that does not rely on selling power to the utility.

Mayor Billy Kenoi on Wednesday laid out an aggressive time line to locate a waste-to-energy facility — by far the county’s largest public works project — at the site of the Hilo landfill before he leaves office in 2016.

Kenoi, speaking to the Environmental Management Commission in Hilo, said the county will put out a solicitation for proposals Monday, the first phase of a process that will be followed July 15 by a more detailed solicitation to a select list of 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.

Kenoi said his office collected reports from the consultants who have been hired and the numerous studies that have been conducted over the past two decades about what to do about the county’s dwindling landfill space.

“Before now, we’ve just kept kicking the can down the road,” Kenoi said. “We’re past studies. … No more studies.”

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 said the administration is leaving the type of waste-reduction facility open until it learns more from the proposals. But he continued to praise Honolulu’s HPower plant, a mass-burn incinerator that also burns refuse-derived fuel.

Maui County recently selected a refuse-derived fuel facility to deal with its solid waste. The process uses heat to turn municipal solid waste, fats and oils, green waste and sewage sludge into chunks that can be burned like coal. Liquefied natural gas is created as a byproduct.

The County Council will have the final say on the new facility and how it would be paid for. Kenoi’s hoping the company submitting the winning proposal will front most, if not all, of what is an as yet unknown capital cost, in order to make money on the operation of the facility.

But the only alternatives to not going with waste reduction are opening a new landfill in Hilo at an estimated cost of $222 million, or trucking all of East Hawaii’s garbage to the West Hawaii landfill in Puuanahulu, a politically unpalatable option that Kenoi and the council have taken off the table. The Hilo landfill has an estimated five years of life left.

The facility could put to use a $9.3 million white elephant the county built in 2010. The sort station, which sat unused for more than a year, was enlisted in 2012 to remove paper, organic waste and green waste from garbage before it goes to the landfill. Trash is dumped onto the plant floor and workers operating a mini-excavator and loaders sort the recyclables by hand before reloading the truck for the landfill.

The county hired four extra workers in 2012 to handle the project, but the diversion rate of how much is removed remains at an abysmal 4.7 percent, even considering the “select” garbage the facility receives from commercial haulers. It’s not known how much the county is paying to operate the plant, as workers are rotated among the transfer stations in addition to the sort station.

The type of waste-reduction facility may be open to suggestions, but Kenoi is firm in his vow to consider only technologies that have at least a three-year track record.

“We want something proven,” he said. “We’re not going to be the guinea pigs of the Pacific.”

Waste-to-energy is the preferred technology, he said. That way the garbage becomes a resource, rather than a liability, he said.

He reassured commissioners 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.

He said there is enough garbage to operate a 300 ton-per-day plant in Hilo by shifting 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. Last month, 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.

Still, Kenoi said, he knows of some waste-reduction facilities operating on as little as 150 tons per day, so he thinks the technology is now scalable smaller than conventional wisdom that has previously dictated a minimum of 500 tons per day to be cost-efficient.

While Maui County has already selected its technology and vendor, its program remains stalled while the county tries to negotiate with Maui Electric Co. to accept the power.

That concerned Com-missioner John Dill, who quizzed Kenoi on whether he’s been working on a power purchase agreement with Hawaii Electric Light Co. here, a sister company to MECO.

“The absence of a PPA will not stop the process?” Dill asked.

Kenoi said he’s been in informal conversations with HELCO, and he plans to keep the electric company in the loop as plans move forward. A 300 ton-per-day plant could generate seven to eight megawatts of power, he said.

While the County Council was mostly positive about Kenoi’s plans at a presentation earlier this month, commissioners seemed concerned that that enthusiasm could wane, once a cost is established.

“It’s very exciting and we want it to happen,” said Commission Chairwoman Ann Lee. “In the end it’s going to hinge on the council. … If they’re so supportive, then it will be a positive flow.”