Public comment sought for energy conversion project’s EIS

An anaerobic digester to produce methane gas from energy crops has been proposed

An environmental impact statement preparation notice has been posted for a renewable energy conversion and sludge processing project at the Wailuku-Kahului Wastewater Reclamation Facility.

Through a request for proposals process, Maui County selected Maui All Natural Alternative, an Anaergia Services company, to install an anaerobic digester to produce methane gas from energy crops grown on former Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co. lands. The energy crops would be provided by Central Maui Feedstocks, a domestic limited liability company created in November by Alexander & Baldwin, the parent company of the now closed HC&S.

Earlier this month, A&B announced a partnership with Oakland, Calif.-based TerViva, a seed oil producing company, to cultivate pongamia trees for biofuel on 250 acres of former sugar lands.

According to the preparation notice posted Friday in the state Office of Environmental Quality Control’s “Environmental Notice,” the renewable energy conversion project at the sewage treatment plant would produce methane through a digestion process. The natural gas would be refined on site and fuel a combined heat-and-power engine to generate electricity for the treatment plant.

Waste heat from the engine would dry wastewater solid matter, known as “sludge,” the document says. The project would not add electricity to Maui’s power grid, it says.

Officials with the county Department of Environmental Management or Maui All Natural Alternative could not immediately be reached for comment.

A 30-day public comment period ends July 24.

The energy conversion and sludge processing facility would be located at the Wailuku-Kahului Wastewater Reclamation Facility next to the ocean on Amala Place in Kahului. The Kanaha Pond Wildlife Sanctuary is inland of the sewage treatment plant, and Kanaha Beach Park and Kahului Airport are located to the east.

The project has been situated not to interfere with daily wastewater treatment operations, the notice says.

The draft environmental impact statement will examine alternatives, including no action and a solar and storage battery facility to provide the equivalent of 1,800 kilowatts of energy and heat.

“The large footprint of suitable land required (for the solar project) within close proximity of Kahului Airport and the Kanaha Pond Wildlife Sanctuary would make this alternative challenging,” the notice says.

And, doing nothing would mean continuing to rely on power from Maui Electric Co. “at a significantly high price despite (the) unusually low cost of fossil fuels,” it says.

The sewage treatment plant “also has a high cost associated with the processing of municipally generated wastewater sludge,” it says. “Sludge is presently being mixed with green waste to produce compost at the Central Maui Landfill. Both the cost of nonrenewable power and co-composting of sludge present budgetary uncertainty to the county with no fixed pricing.”

And, according to the notice, the co-composting of waste sludge with green waste “has proven challenging to market as a compost product.”

In December, the Maui County Council approved a resolution for a 20-year site lease to Anaergia, doing business as Maui All Natural Alternative, for a 1-acre site within the state-owned treatment plant property.

During the council meeting, Council Member Elle Cochran objected to taking action before further discussion could happen in her Infrastructure and Environmental Management Committee. She said there were unanswered questions about the project, including its location in a tsunami zone.

Cochran also said she was concerned about EKO Compost no longer receiving sludge from the sewage treatment plant to produce compost.

On Friday, there was no response from EKO Compost to a request from The Maui News for comment.

At the meeting in December, Department of Environmental Management Director Stewart Stant told council members that Anaergia would develop the facility at no construction cost to the county, and then the county would pay the company 29 cents per kilowatt hour while electricity costs from Maui Electric fluctuate depending on market conditions.

(By comparison, MECO was paying Maui wind farms 12 cents per kWh; fossil-fuel generated power was 12.5 cents per kWh in April.)

The cost of disposing the sludge would be reduced from $103 to $80 per ton by switching from EKO Compost to Anaergia, Stant told council members.

The draft environmental impact statement notice says the project benefits include using renewable energy instead of fossil fuel, decreasing the sewage treatment plant’s “carbon footprint,” enabling it to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and producing fertilizer.

And, “the conversion of wastewater biosolids into a Class A fertilizer product will provide a nutrient-rich soil amendment product for use on county properties or sold to private agricultural businesses, providing a potential source of revenue for the county as well as stimulating economic development and preserving agriculture,” the preparation notice says.

The project will require a state conservation district use permit and a county special management area permit.

The environmental review process is expected to be completed by the end of this year, and the project is planned to be operational by the end of 2019.

Anaergia contracted with the county in 2014 to build a waste conversion facility at the Central Maui Landfill. It also has proposed building a $50 million Maui Energy Park in West Maui to grow sorghum, a biocrop that could be processed into renewable fuel.

* Brian Perry can be reached at bperry@mauinews.com.

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HAVING A SAY

To comment on the renewable energy conversion and sludge processing project, write to:

• Maui County Department of Environmental Management, Director Stewart Stant, 2050 Main St. Suite 2B, Wailuku 96793. Stant may be reached at 270-7431 or via email at stewart.stant@co.maui.hi.us.

• Maui All Natural Alternative; Jeff Walsh; 5780 Fleet St. Suite 310; Carlsbad, Calif. 92008. Walsh may be reached at (808) 729-1495 or (760) 436-8870 or via email at jeff.walsh@anaergia.com.

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