Waste conversion project stalled for now

Officials with the company that’s been contracted to build a state-of-the-art waste conversion facility at the Central Maui landfill say the project is still on target for completion in 2018, but at least one Maui County Council member isn’t so sure.

Council Chairman Mike White said in a recent interview that elements of the Anaergia proposal have always seemed “sketchy,” and other council members have shared similar sentiments. He said he is awaiting the findings of a performance audit of the county Department of Environmental Management’s Solid Waste Division, which is expected to be finalized in January.

The county awarded Illinois-based CBI Environmental & Infrastructure Inc. the contract in September to complete the audit at a cost of $89,292. The performance audit will analyze efficiencies and inefficiencies of the division’s general operations, as well as whether Anaergia’s proposal is truly a “no-cost” project to the county, White said. County officials had said before the contract was signed that the waste conversion facility would reduce the number of employees needed to staff the landfill.

Council Member Elle Cochran, who chairs the Infrastructure and Environmental Management Committee, declined to comment on the Anaergia project Friday, according to her office staff.

Momentum for the project has slowed considerably since Mayor Alan Arakawa signed a 20-year contract with the California-based renewable energy company in January 2014.

Anaergia operates more than 1,600 renewable energy projects worldwide, and it agreed to finance, design, construct, own and operate its facility at the landfill, though the county will need to pay a tipping fee through the duration of the contract. The facility, officials said, would save the county millions in landfill costs, produce renewable energy and boost the Puunene landfill diversion rate to more than 80 percent.

Anaergia’s Jeff Walsh said the project remains on track to be built in the next three years, though it appears to be stalled for now.

Maui Electric Co. has refused to commit to purchasing renewable energy that would be produced by Anaergia’s facility, or to buy biocrops directly from one of Anaergia’s other proposed projects, the Maui Energy Park (formerly known as the Mahinahina Energy Park) in West Maui. The utility said the asking price was too high.

“We worked very hard with Anaergia to negotiate a contract that was in the best interests of our customers,” MECO spokeswoman Shayna Decker said in a September email. “However, in the end, the pricing they offered was too high and would have resulted in increased costs to our customers.”

Anaergia officials have argued that biogas produced at the facility is a locally produced, renewable energy source that would be a boon for the county. They argued that the pricing for the fuels is “very competitive.”

The proposed prices are confidential because negotiations are ongoing, officials said.

Anaergia filed a complaint with the state Public Utilities Commission in September, asking the body to, among other things, compel MECO to negotiate a biogas fuel supply contract with Anaergia within 45 days. The three-member commission denied the request to expedite a declaratory order, but it did agree to hear the matter in its chambers.

That hearing is scheduled for 9 a.m. Jan. 12 in the commission hearing room in Honolulu. The commission will then have 30 days after the hearing date to render its findings and decisions.

Walsh said he’s optimistic that the three-member commission will find that Anaergia’s project is in line with the state’s goal of 100 percent renewable energy by 2045.

“We believe Anaergia’s proposal has merit and provides a long-term cost savings,” he said.

When asked for an update on the project, county spokesman Rod Antone said in an email, “Nothing’s changed as far as I know.” He said the administration is awaiting the PUC ruling.


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