Maui County is seeking bids for a company to convert the island's solid waste into energy in an effort to cut down on the amount of trash that ends up in the Central Maui Landfill in Puunene.
The Department of Environmental Management is taking proposals until Jan. 16 of any established technologies that can turn municipal waste into a green resource.
"We're not asking for a specific type of technology. We're asking for a proven record of a minimum of three years at the commercial level, and a facility that has the capacity to handle what Maui generates, which is about 450 tons a day of municipal solid waste," said Michael Miyamoto, deputy director of the Department of Environmental Management.
Garbage trucks dump their loads at the Central Maui Sanitary Landfill last month.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
The department would lease approximately 10 acres of land next to the landfill to the winning bidder, who would be required to finance, design, build and operate the project. The county would make available all of its waste streams - including solid waste, green waste, sewage sludge and grease - and guarantee sending the waste to the facility for 20 years.
"This is an opportunity to convert what we take in at the Central Maui Landfill into some other form, whether it's converted to energy that can be sold to the electric utility, or some kind of biofuel or other fuel source," Miyamoto said.
The formal request for proposals - which was issued last week - follows a so-called request for qualifications in March that attracted some 70 interested parties.
Miyamoto said that the initial submittals included "a good mix of technologies," including gasification processes and producing methane as an energy source.
The department has said that an incineration facility - like the City and County of Honolulu's HPOWER facility that can burn up to 3,000 tons of waste a day - is an unlikely candidate for Maui's needs.
"Being that we're on the order of 450, 500 tons per day, I don't think that incineration will be the option that comes out the best just based on - it's too low of a scale," Department of Environmental Management Director Kyle Ginoza told the Maui County Council's Infrastructure Management Committee last month.
Ginoza said only about 30 percent of the county's trash is "diverted" from landfills and either recycled or put to some other use.
"One way to significantly increase diversion is through implementation of a waste conversion project, a project where less than 10 percent of inert waste from municipal solid waste ends up being landfilled," he told the committee. "It is not uncommon that there is 80 to 90 percent landfill diversion through a waste conversion project."
While one draw would be the potential to sell any renewable power generated to Maui Electric Co., that potential is uncertain at this point, he said.
Maui Electric has been wanting to issue its own RFP for a waste-to-energy plant near the landfill. Whatever project ends up winning the county's bid could potentially apply for MECO's bid, but MECO has yet to issue its RFP.
"We don't want to be, you know, five years from now and we're just waiting on our project because (MECO is) still trying to figure out theirs," Ginoza said.
He said MECO's willingness to buy power would determine what end product the county seeks in deciding on a technology.
"It's kind of a chicken or the egg where we stand as a county, in that we cannot negotiate what a final purchase agreement would be because we don't know what our project is, and yet how do you get a project without knowing somebody will take that energy," he told the council. "The biggest complication for me is I don't want to mislead people to think that, oh yeah, there's a market for, you know, there is a definitive revenue stream for you on the back end, when there may not be."
He said the department continues to have conversations with the utility.
Outgoing Council Chairman Danny Mateo told Ginoza that he was encouraged by the potential project and that he believes the county "no longer can just wait anymore."
"I think we've gotten to the point where we've got to start pushing ourselves and taking a look at new challenges, new resources, and new opportunities," Mateo said. "We're real cognizant of cost factors, especially in new creations of landfills, and then the most obvious one, the closure of landfills. You know, it's really astronomical for us. So the longer we can expand the life of a landfill by looking at these options, I think we're better off."
Council Member Mike Victorino added that generating renewable power would be an added bonus to the underlying need for reducing landfill space.
"We need to look at some way of disposing of solid waste and if we create energy as a byproduct, that's good. But that's not the main reason we're doing this; it's because we have a finite amount of land," he said. "And even if it's 50 years from now, 100 years from now . . . if we wait until a point where now we got to start shipping refuse off the island, that's an environmental nightmare just waiting to happen."
Ginoza agreed, noting, however, that a developer would be able to recoup its costs by selling energy or a fuel byproduct.
"Definitely we're looking at it being a paradigm shift from waste disposal to utilizing it as a resource, which the primary positive benefit is; we're not filling our land with opala," he said. "And that the energy side of it just helps make it work financially."
Miyamoto said the department expects to review bids in January and February and make a decision in time for any budget implications to be reflected in the county's upcoming fiscal year budget.
He said that the department estimates a project could come online in the next three to five years.
Copies of the RFP can be obtained through the Department of Finance's purchasing division by calling 249-2403 or by visiting the office at 2145 Wells St., Suite 104. A request form for the bid document
can also be obtained online at www.co.maui.hi.us/index.aspx?nid=509.
An informational meeting is scheduled for Nov. 27 to answer questions and to show interested parties the leasable site near the landfill. For more information, call the Environmental Management department at 270-8230.
* Nanea Kalani can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.