Power to burn


HILO — A waste-to-energy incinerator has moved up as the best solution to Hawaii County’s mounting garbage problem.

Mayor Billy Kenoi said Wednesday he has decided to let existing solid waste contracts lapse while his administration looks into the feasibility of the waste reduction technology as the first-choice solution. Kenoi said one of his first steps is meeting with Hawaii Electric Light Co. to see how much electricity the utility can handle and what kind of price agreement can be worked out.

He’s also watching how Maui County handles a recent solicitation for waste reduction technologies. Maui received more than 100 proposals and has winnowed it to five, he said.

“Zero waste is the goal for the county of Hawaii, to remove as much as possible from going into the landfill,” Kenoi said.

Waste-to-energy isn’t considered cost-effective for a garbage stream of less than 500 tons per day, according to a spokesman for Waste Management Inc., which operates such plants in other states.

Hawaii County’s current waste stream, before any organic waste is removed, is just under 200 tons per day at the Hilo landfill and just under 300 tons per day at the West Hawaii landfill in Puuanahulu, Solid Waste Director Greg Goodale said. All rubbish from Laupahoehoe to Pahala is already trucked to Puuanahulu.

The County Council has been pushing the administration for a comprehensive look at solid waste, instead of piecemeal contracts for mulch, compost, recycling and the like.

The first contract to go was a 10-year plan to turn garbage into compost, which the County Council deferred indefinitely Wednesday. Organics that would be used for composting and mulch operations would consume “upwards of 60 percent” of the waste stream, Goodale said.

Kenoi said he favors a waste-to-energy incinerator similar to the H-Power plant on Oahu as a solution to the county’s growing garbage problem and the imminent closure of the Hilo landfill, which is estimated to have less than five years remaining.

The only other options, Kenoi said, are trucking Hilo garbage to Puuanahulu — an option he has taken off the table — or expanding the Hilo landfill — a doubtful proposition because of permitting issues.

Kenoi tempered his remarks, however, by saying no decision would be made until factors such as cost and community input are taken into account.

“We plan to find what would be the best and most beneficial for Hawaii County taxpayers,” Kenoi said, “And then go to the County Council with very clear, specific and accurate information.”

He didn’t have a specific time frame for taking it to the council.

The 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.

South Kona/Ka‘u Councilwoman Brenda Ford brought up the high cost of incineration at a council Environmental Management Committee hearing earlier this month. One of her biggest problems with incineration, however, is the destruction of organic material desperately needed to improve soil on the dry side of the island.

“You’re going to take all the compost and mulch away and burn it up at the cost to the taxpayers of this county,” Ford said.

Council Chairman J Yoshimoto and Environmental Management Committee Chairman Zendo Kern, however, are more open to waste-to-energy incineration as a solution. Both weren’t ready to commit Wednesday to it being the only solution, however.

Like Ford, Yoshimoto had been opposed to the 2008 Wheelabrator proposal. But Yoshimoto ultimately came around and voted to approve the plant on a six-month trial. The majority of the council killed the proposal, however.

“I’m not beholden to a particular technology for solid waste,” Yoshimoto said. “There is no perfect solution. We just need to balance what we want with what it costs.”

Kern favors looking at the entire solid waste issue rather than taking components piecemeal, and he said he’s glad the council brought the Department of Environmental Management in for informational sessions on the various components already in place, as well as what was previously proposed.

“It’s premature to say any one process or program is the ultimate one,” Kern said. “There are a lot of questions to be answered. But the ultimate goal would be to turn a liability into an asset.”