Kenoi touts waste-to-energy as DEM head wants to prolong landfill


As his newly appointed Environmental Management director told a county panel the Hilo landfill could last another 12 years, Mayor Billy Kenoi vowed Wednesday that a waste-to-energy facility will be “on the ground” by the time he leaves office in 3 1/2 years.

Bobby Jean Leithead Todd, who formerly headed the department and faces confirmation by the County Council next month, told the Environmental Management Commission that her office is in the process of obtaining a consultant to finalize a sliver-fill design on the north-facing slope of the landfill, a process that could extend its life another 10 to 12 years. Previous estimates said the landfill had less than five years left.

Leithead Todd said the extra time is needed as a buffer as the county looks at alternatives such as waste-to-energy incinerators.

“We are very preliminarily looking at alternatives,” Leithead Todd said. “Given the history of the procurement process, we’ll probably need that extra time.”

But Kenoi, who was not at the meeting, in an interview after Leithead Todd’s comments, said there’s no reason the process has to take that long. He pointed out his administration’s success getting the $30.9 million, 2.9-mile Ane Keohokalole Highway built in less than two years.

“Our goal is to have in the next 3 1/2 years a long-term solution on the ground and implemented,” He said. “Any project can take years. We’ve never let previous time lines stymie us.”

After years of solicitations and negotiations, the County Council in 2008 killed a proposal by former Mayor Harry Kim to build a $125 million waste-to-energy facility because of concerns over the cost. Leithead Todd, who headed DEM at the time, said the costs ballooned from initial estimates of $60 million or less after the contractor, Wheelabrator Technologies Inc., factored in the added costs of local permits, materials and labor.

She said the county is likely to issue a request for information from potential vendors, before drafting a request for proposals that will narrow down the technology.

One of the problems, Leithead Todd noted, is the county’s garbage stream has been reduced, primarily because of the economic downturn, to a level that may not sustain a waste-to-energy incinerator. Currently, a total of about 419 tons per day goes to the island’s two landfills.

Experts have said a minimum of 500 tons per day is required to make waste-to-energy incineration cost-effective with current technology.

“I basically said I’m going to come into this job with an open mind,” Leithead Todd said. “We’ll see what’s out there. … It has to be consistent with the amount that we have.”

Kenoi, however, said the county already knows what’s out there, and he points to the City and County of Honolulu’s HPower garbage incinerator as an example of what can be done on Hawaii Island. HPower burns about 2,000 tons per day, providing 7 percent of Oahu’s electricty, according to its website.

“HPower has been a model that’s worked in Hawaii for two decades,” Kenoi said. “The technology has been developed and we look forward to implementing that solution.”

Omaha-based HDR Consultants Inc., the owner’s engineer for the HPower garbage incinerator, came to the Big Island and visited with Leithead Todd and Solid Waste Division staff on June 6, Leithead Todd said. While their primary purpose was to discuss Hawaii County’s waste-to-energy plans, Leithead Todd said there was also a “very tentative discussion” about the county sending garbage to HPower if the need arose.

Kenoi seemed to agree with that philosophy, as well as adding years to the Hilo landfill.

“Even if we pursue one option,” Kenoi said, “it’s still important to keep all our options open.”