EKO seeks partnership in waste, energy conversion

WAILUKU – Local recycling company Maui EKO Compost agreed Monday to begin discussions with Anaergia Services, the California-based company selected to build a waste conversion facility on Maui, on how a partnership may be forged to allow EKO to continue doing what they’ve been doing for 18 years – turning organic waste into compost.

“EKO . . . believes Anaergia is sincere in working with EKO to address our concerns,” Maui EKO Compost spokeswoman Brittany Smart testified Monday at the County Council Policy and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee meeting. “While this in no way guarantees that composting will become an aspect of this project, or that EKO and Anaergia will form a business relationship, EKO believes Anaergia will seriously consider all aspects of this possibility.”

At the last Policy and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee meeting Dec. 2, Maui EKO Compost and subcontractor Pacific Biodiesel, which both operate at the Central Maui Landfill in Puunene, testified that they would be displaced if Anaergia were to build its proposed $100 million-plus waste conversion facility at the site. The state-of-the-art facility would nearly double the county’s current landfill diversion rate from 43 percent to more than 80 percent, county officials have said.

After a series of email exchanges and meetings with Anaergia officials over the past two weeks, officials from both local recycling companies appeared Monday to be more open to the idea of working out a partnership.

Maui EKO Compost President Tom Pawlish signed a memorandum of understanding with Anaergia on Monday morning to begin negotiations on how the composting company could possibly work within the framework of Anaergia’s design, Smart said.

“We believe there is a spot in Anaergia’s proposal for composting, and we hope the outset of this MOU outlines the framework (needed) to get the discussion started,” Smart told The Maui News after the meeting.

Anaergia President Arun Sharma said he will make his “best efforts” to work out some sort of partnership with Maui EKO Compost.

“It would be my best endeavor to include them (Maui EKO Compost) and make sure the business model works. Obviously, we can’t say anything definitively, but we’re going to make our best efforts,” Sharma said.

Sharma added that they also are “deeply interested” in partnering with Pacific Biodiesel, which has been diverting fats, oils and grease from the county waste stream for 17 years. Discussions are ongoing, Sharma said, adding that Anaergia does not necessarily need the fats, oils and grease used by Pacific Biodiesel but could potentially use the glycerine byproduct the biodiesel plant produces.

Anaergia has reported that its facility will be able to turn the county’s waste stream into recyclables to be shipped and processed off island, as some of the waste currently is; liquefied natural gas; or compost from the organic waste and refuse-derived fuel blocks from the inorganic waste.

Sharma said about 15 percent or less of the county’s waste stream that cannot be recycled – mostly dirt, rocks and little scraps – will be dumped into the landfill. Roughly 20 to 25 percent will be shredded and turned into solid refuse-derived fuel, sold either on-island, in-state or internationally. The majority of the waste would be shipped off-island as recyclables or converted into liquefied natural gas on Maui.

The option of turning organic material into compost also is a possibility, depending on the pending partnership with Maui EKO Compost, Sharma said.

Because so many things are still “up in the air” in terms of ongoing contract negotiations and details about “what the project will look like,” it is difficult for third-party local recycling companies to determine if or how they would be impacted and what a partnership with Anaergia would entail, recycling company officials said.

“We still don’t understand the project well enough to lay down terms,” Pacific Biodiesel Chief Executive Officer Sam Millington said. “Both parties are trying; it’s just apples and kumquats at this point. There needs to be more discussion on what this project will look like.”

The contract between the county and Anaergia still is being negotiated, though Sharma told The Maui News after the meeting that the parties are “close to finalizing” and should have something concrete by the end of the week. Anaergia does not necessarily need the County Council’s formal support for the project to move forward.

“I think everybody’s trying to act in good faith – the county, Anaergia, Pacific Biodiesel, the other recyclers, but because there are so many unknowns, I think people are trying to control the narrative without having all the facts,” Millington said.

Council Member Don Couch agreed that the facts were not all available, but “my biggest concern was (to get) everyone talking.”

“Everyone seems to be talking at this point; whether or not they come to an agreement, that’s a business deal, not our concern. But at least there are legitimate discussions happening: heartfelt, true discussions that are not just for show,” Couch said.

Other council members acknowledged that it was difficult to come up with answers without having a secured contract that pins down critical details.

“This is a real complex issue, but nobody is really being pushed away at this time,” Council Member Mike Victorino said. “A lot of uncertainty exists, and we’re trying to work through it.”

After breaking for executive session, the committee agreed to defer the matter until after the contract between Anaergia and the county is solidified.

“Until the county makes its decision, these third-party questions will never be answered because it is out of their control until the terms of the contract are finalized,” committee Chairman Riki Hokama said.

The reason it wasn’t finalized before appearing before the County Council is because “we didn’t want to come in and say, ‘Here’s the contract,’ ” said county Department of Environmental Management Director Kyle Ginoza, whose department drafted the Request for Proposals and chose Anaergia in April as the winning bidder out of the 20 received proposals.

“We felt like they would want to see it before we finalized things,” Ginoza said of the Maui County Council.

* Eileen Chao can be reached at echao@mauinews.com.