Waste-to-energy plan has changed

In October an “Anaerobic Discussion” was held on the University of Hawaii Maui College campus. What attendees got was a numbers game.

The intent was to discuss the winning proposal for the County of Maui Integrated Waste Conversion To Energy request for proposal. According to the proposal, Anaergia Services Inc. would: take control of Maui’s entire waste stream; process household, business and industrial wastes; and produce two renewable energy products.

The wet portion of Maui’s waste would go into an anaerobic digester, a machine that speeds waste breakdown and produces a gas fuel. The proposal states that most of this renewable fuel would be used to power the digester. In addition, the proposal called for what is known as a “dirty” materials recovery facility, in which recyclable components of a waste stream are recovered for recycling and reuse.

The difference between a “clean” MRF and a “dirty” MRF is that a “clean” MRF is designed and sized to manage the recyclable portion of the waste stream, resulting in a significant diversion of clean, high-value, marketable material as a commodity feedstock for remanufacture. A “dirty” MRF, which is significantly larger and more complex, manages the entire waste stream, including food waste and nonrecyclables. Due to contamination, the “dirty” MRF produces a much smaller quantity of clean recyclables with a much lower market value.

The residual materials passing through the “dirty” MRF would be processed into a product known as refuse-derived fuel, a dry material designed to be burned in municipal incinerators, power plants and other industrial facilities. In Maui’s case, the potential customers were identified as Maui Electric Co., Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co. and the HPOWER incinerator on Oahu. The proposal indicated that 50 percent of the materials processed in the “dirty” MRF would become RDF.

The proposal also stated that Anaergia would build, own and operate a for-profit facility on county land. Anaergia would have the right to set and collect tipping fees for materials deposited at the Anaergia facility by commercial haulers, businesses and residents. The county would pay tipping fees to Anaergia for the residential and business trash picked up by county trucks and delivered to the landfill.

However, as attendees at the forum found out, the original proposal had changed significantly. Most importantly, the “dirty” MRF was replaced by a “clean” MRF and the amount of the dry materials converted into RDF was reduced to 5 percent.

These and other changes to the original proposal were presented by Maui County Environmental Management Director Kyle Ginoza, Anaergia Services President Arun Sharma and Allen Hershkowitz, senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Their presentations were received with disbelief and confusion by an audience sensitized to thinking about personal and community discards as resources that have value and are utilized by local companies making products such as biodiesel, compost and more. Some of these companies have nearly two decades of experience and employ dozens of Mauians who produce millions of dollars for Maui’s economy. The presenters were asking us to turn our backs on these recycling pioneers and adopt a plan that will produce enough renewable fuel to power itself along with the RDF, which appears to have no market.

Because the numbers in the Anaergia proposal have changed, there is a good chance the RFP process will have to be repeated and no guarantee that any of the current plan will survive.

Moreover, the deal includes a “Put or Pay” clause, requiring the county to guarantee a minimum quantity of waste to the contractor. Thus, if the county does not deliver enough trash to Anaergia, the county (taxpayers) will have to pay for the shortfall. In addition, the total annual tipping fee for the portion of the waste stream that the county controls would be millions of dollars. Pretty steep for a project that the Arakawa administration has said would cost the county nothing.

* Jeff Stark is the chairman of Maui Recycling Group’s Public Education Committee.