Unlike five years ago, when Hawaii County almost got on the hook to buy a $125 million waste-to-energy incinerator with taxpayer money, garbage technology companies today are paying for their own facilities and assuming the risk of selling the resulting product, the county Waste Management Commission learned Wednesday.
The commission heard from Kyle Ginoza, environmental management director for Maui County, who recently selected a company to process Maui County garbage.
The company uses heat to create chunks called RDF for “refuse derived fuel” that can be burned like coal. Liquefied natural gas is created as a byproduct. The process uses municipal solid waste, fats and oils, green waste and sewage sludge.
Mayor Billy Kenoi has said Honolulu’s HPower plant is a good model for his county. HPower uses two RDF-fired burners, but its newest burner is a mass-burn incinerator, which is cheaper to run than the RDF-fueled ones.
The Hawaii County Council, however, is worried that relying on incineration, or other large-scale plant, could hurt the county’s recycling efforts, especially in creating mulch and compost from green waste.
The council, meeting as the Environmental Management Committee, last month unanimously passed the nonbinding Resolution 123, “strongly urging” the mayor not to limit the county solely to waste-to-energy options, but to consider all alternatives, with an emphasis on composting and mulching, as well as increased personal responsibility to reduce, reuse and recycle.
The Environmental Management Commission voted unanimously Wednesday to not agree or disagree with the resolution, which sends it back to the council with a negative recommendation. Commissioner Sherm Warner said the resolution presupposes the best solution without going through an evaluation of alternatives.
“There should be a process,” Warner said. “And a resolution that just picks two solutions … I just think it’s wrong to just find conclusions without processes.”
Resolution sponsor Kohala Councilwoman Margaret Wille, who was not at the meeting, said she added wording about composting and mulching because the organic matter is a resource and shouldn’t be used simply to feed an oversized waste-to-energy facility to avoid fines.
“Farmers are saying to me, ‘We use compost and prices are going up,’” Wille said.
Mulch on both islands is piling up, however, because of the recent economic downturn. Developers, more than farmers, buy compost and mulch, Environmental Management Director Bobby Jean Leithead Todd said.
The resolution also asks the administration to issue Requests for Information instead of Requests for Proposals in order to consider all alternatives out there, and that responses be presented to the council, “so as to maximize its level of knowledge and keep the public informed.”
That’s not likely to happen, with the mayor vowing to have a facility “on the ground” before he leaves office in 2016, and Leithead Todd saying she will dispense with a Request for Information because she can use the responses to Maui’s RFI to gauge interest from vendors.
“I don’t want to reinvent the wheel,” Leithead Todd said.
“(The administration) should be able to use the council as a resource,” Wille said, “instead of just presenting us a done deal to vote up or down.”
Ginoza said the contractor on his island won’t have to build the approximately $80 million to $100 million project if it can’t get a market for the product beforehand. Negotiations with Maui Electric Co., a sister company to Hawaii Electric Light Co. on the Big Island, have so far been unsuccessful.
He said there are basically three types of processes for handling municipal waste: traditional incineration that creates heat to run a steam turbine, high-temperature gasification and creation of synthetic gas using anaerobic digestion. He estimated the technology for the two newest methods still have another five to 10 years to mature.
Leithead Todd, fresh from a trip to Maui last week to learn more about its garbage operations, said Ginoza has shared his bid documents and companies’ responses, to help Hawaii County get its paperwork ready to put a project to bid. It’s not known when that step of the process will take place.
Maui, however, has a luxury Hawaii County, facing the closure of the Hilo landfill within 10 years, doesn’t have. By lining and filling quarries as they’re mined for blue rock, Maui County has an almost limitless supply of landfill space.