New ‘digester’ power plant for wastewater facility moves forward

Maui County is slowly on its way to having an electricity-generating facility that will power the Wailuku-Kahului Wastewater Reclamation Facility as well as produce fertilizer that the county could sell.

On Friday, the Maui County Council approved a resolution for a 20-year site lease to Anaergia Services LLC, doing business as Maui All Natural Alternative LLC, for 1 acre of the wastewater reclamation facility’s parcel near Kanaha Beach Park.

The county Department of Environmental Management has submitted a request for consent to lease to the state Board of Land and Natural Resources, as the state owns the property for the county facility, said Environmental Management Director Stewart Stant.

But with the county’s OK, Stant said, Anaergia can go ahead with financing and plans for the “digester” that will make methane gas. The gas will fuel a turbine that will produce electricity for the Kahului-Wailuku wastewater treatment plant.

The digester will provide a firm source of power for the plant, Stant said.

Initially, the digester will use bio crops from Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co. to produce the methane. In the future, methane gas could be made from landfill trash.

Wind from the turbine can be used to dry sludge from the treatment plant. The sludge will then become “Grade A” fertilizer, Stant said. The fertilizer will be the county’s to keep.

The timeline for the digester and other details are up in the air as officials could not firm up plans or contracts until the lease was secured with the county, Stant said.

During Friday’s council meeting, Council Member Elle Cochran objected to the lease. She also was upset that Council Member Don Couch pulled the resolution for the lease for a vote on the floor instead of letting it be referred to committee as Cochran had hoped and planned for the next council term, which begins in January.

The lease matter “hasn’t been vetted through public scrutiny” and “it hasn’t been vetted through us, the council,” Cochran said Monday.

“That’s why I had it in my committee,” said Cochran, chairwoman of the council’s Infrastructure and Environmental Management Committee.

She said that the matter has been heard in her committee several times, but there were still unanswered questions. Issues out of her control, such as weather and a special council meeting, cut short the time in her committee to discuss the lease.

In addition, Cochran said that she has concerns about the facility being at the treatment plant, which is in a tsunami zone. Moving the wastewater treatment plant has long been talked about, she added.

Cochran was also concerned about EKO Compost no longer being able to take the sludge for compost as it will now be diverted to Anaergia’s facility.

Stant said that Anaergia will be developing the facility at no construction cost to the county and the company would be responsible for the facility if it were to be damaged.

The county will pay Anaergia 29 cents per kilowatt-hour to supply power, with give or take up to 2.2 percent for fluctuations, Stant said.

Currently with Maui Electric Co., the electricity costs vary due to the market, Stant said.

As for the sludge, the county pays EKO Compost $103 per ton to take the sludge, Stant said. With Anaergia, it will cost the county $80 per ton, with the dried sludge being returned to the county for fertilizer. The sludge will come from all of county’s treatment plants, not only Kahului.

Stant said that the county could sell the fertilizer as well.

“It’s an incredible project,” he said.

Couch said Monday that the resolution only deals with the lease for the project and that the “county has enough clauses in the lease to make the members feel that it was an acceptable course of action to pass it out right then.”

He added that the county administration had requested that the resolution be passed out quickly “due to the high probability that prices would go up and make the project not feasible.”

“This is the first firm renewable energy project on Maui. While there are legitimate concerns about (Maui All Natural Alternative) being able to make it pencil out, we need to allow them the opportunity,” Couch added.

In 2014, California-based Anaergia signed a 20-year contract with Mayor Alan Arakawa’s administration to build a state-of-the-art waste conversion facility at the Central Maui Landfill, and it has proposed building a $50 million Maui Energy Park in West Maui to grow sorghum, a bio crop that would be processed into renewable fuel at the Central Maui facility.

The project at the wastewater treatment plant was prompted by a request for proposals by the county.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.

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