Mayor Alan Arakawa's administration is finalizing negotiations with California-based Anaergia Services for the proposed Central Maui waste-to-energy plant, county officials said Tuesday.
A proposal is expected to appear before the Maui County Council for approval "within a month or two."
If the County Council approves the project, it may come on line as soon as 2016. The project would divert roughly 85 percent of waste away from the Central Maui Landfill and produce renewable fuels. County support for other recycling programs, like the 3 Can Plan pilot program in South Maui, would likely be discontinued, though, according to county officials.
If the County Council rejects the proposal, plans for the waste conversion project may be scrapped.
"For the same amount of tax dollars we're spending now, we (Maui County) can get to 80 percent diversion, from (the current) 40 percent," said county Department of Environmental Management Director Kyle Ginoza of the amount of waste diverted from landfills and turned into renewable energy. "It's the cheapest option. We don't have to spend money from the county because we're getting a private developer to come in and create the fuel. Their revenue stream will enact the project, rather than having it come from county taxpayers."
The county would still pay Anaergia $68 per ton for waste disposal.
In April, the county chose Anaergia Services of Carlsbad, Calif., to build a $100 million-plus facility on county land near the Central Maui Landfill. The plant would consist of a processing facility to extract recyclable material and to convert residual material into refuse-derived fuel or liquefied natural gas, Ginoza said.
In the long run, he said the county would save on the "long-term costs" of developing and maintaining landfills by turning more waste into reusable energy.
Proponents of recycling initiatives expressed concerns with the proposed waste conversion plant.
"We have a number of problems with the plan," said Jeff Stark of Maui Recycling Group. "People have indicated it would be costly for their company to modify their equipment that would allow them to burn this refuse-derived fuel. I also have questions about whether the ash, which is still municipal solid waste, might be considered toxic."
He added that the county's Integrated Solid Waste Management Plan states that the county should not consider a waste-to-energy component until it has reached a 60 percent waste diversion rate. The county's current diversion rate, or amount of trash that is diverted from the landfills to be recycled, is about 42 percent, Stark said.
In addition, island businesses like Pacific Biodiesel and Maui EKO Compost would suffer. They already divert certain types of waste from the landfill and use it to run their operations.
Kahului-based Pacific Biodiesel has been collecting grease and cooking oil from the Central Maui Landfill and converting it into biodiesel fuel for 17 years. But if the waste conversion plant were to become a reality, the company would either need to work out a partnership with Anaergia or get its raw materials from elsewhere.
"We are consistently aware we have great support from the community and our customers, who support locally produced, clean fuel," Pacific Biodiesel Vice President Kelly King said. Last year, the company was named as one of the "Top 25 Most Influential Companies in Hawaii" by Pacific Business News.
"Everybody talks about clean energy and local business, the proof is in the pudding. Buy the fuel, use the fuel," King said.
But Ginoza said that operations like Pacific Biodiesel are not a viable solution for the community as a whole because they specialize in processing only one type of waste. While there are other local companies that process other types of waste, the proposed waste conversion program would be able to process nearly all waste, at a fraction of what it would cost the county to implement a variety of separate programs.
"If the council wants to double our operating budget and implement all these (waste management) programs, that is fine. But that hasn't happened, so in absence of that, what do we do?" Ginoza asked.
Aloha Recycling owner and President Tom Reed said he did not think a waste conversion program, which has worked for more densely populated places like Honolulu, was right for Maui. He doubted that the county would be able to produce the amount of trash each day in order for a waste-to-energy project to be viable.
But it already does, Ginoza said. On average, the Central Maui Landfill takes in 450 tons of trash every day. When construction projects were running full tilt on the island, the average amount of solid waste was as much as 700 tons per day, and economic forecasts have predicted a steady return of more construction activity on the island. The guaranteed minimum that the county agreed upon in its negotiations with Anaergia was 375 tons of waste per day, Ginoza said.
Contrary to what some may believe, the waste conversion program is not meant to encourage more waste production, Ginoza said.
"I agree that reducing the amount of waste we generate is absolutely the best thing to do . . . but if you look at the trends as to how we as Americans live, I don't see us reducing our packaging and waste culture by that much. I don't think we'll hit under the minimum tonnage. I'd be happy if we did," he said.
Reed also expressed concern that the county was rushing into the deal without facilitating public discussion.
"This waste-to-energy project is a big deal, and it's a big deal primarily because it's inherently a 20-year contract that the county is entering into, with no public discussion, forum or review of the pros and cons," Reed said. "There are a lot of businesses that would be put out of business."
Reed said his company would continue because of its profitable redemption program, but a piece of the business - hauling recyclable materials from drop boxes at county sites to a waste processor - would be gone.
Ginoza said he was sympathetic to business owners that may be negatively impacted, but he "owes it to the taxpayers" to weigh all the options.
"We're still in the process of figuring out what we want to do," Ginoza said. "Everything is still preliminary. . . . We didn't engage the public before because I don't want to waste the public's time, I wanted to do the research first. Now we have the data from the curbside recycling front, landfill recycling front and the waste conversion front. Now is when we engage the council in a public discussion."
Ginoza and representatives from Maui Recycling Group, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Sustainable Living Institute of Maui spoke at an educational panel hosted by the institute and Sierra Club Maui Group Wednesday night. The free event, "Talkin' Trash: Solid Waste Solutions for Maui's Future," was held in the science lecture hall of the 'Ike Le'a building at the University of Hawaii Maui College.
A second discussion panel hosted by Maui Recycling Group is scheduled for 6 p.m. Oct. 22 at the same location.
The waste conversion program has not yet been scheduled to appear before the County Council.
* Eileen Chao can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.