Nine months after first selecting California-based company Anaergia Services to build a waste conversion facility near the Central Maui Landfill, Mayor Alan Arakawa signed a contract solidifying the deal Wednesday.
"The county embarked on this project to foster creation of on-island renewable energy and land-use sustainability," Arakawa said in a news release Friday. Anaergia's "solution bolsters recycling efforts for the community and advances significant landfill diversion, while providing a considerable net environmental benefit, renewable fuels and long-term cost savings in the millions of dollars over the 20-year term of the agreement."
Arakawa signed the contract Wednesday night during a live broadcast of "Your County with Mayor Alan Arakawa," a monthly segment featured on Akaku: Maui Community Television.
Anaergia officials have reported that their $100 million, state-of-the-art Maui Resource Recovery Facility will be able to divert approximately 85 percent of the county's municipal solid waste from the Central Maui Landfill. Currently, only about 43 percent of the waste is diverted.
While the Puunene landfill is not nearing its limits of available space, as is the case with Kauai, waste management experts have long warned of the detrimental effects and costs of landfilling, and advocate for as much solid waste diversion as possible.
"According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, landfills are the third greatest emitters of methane pollution in the United States. Methane is a greenhouse gas 60 times more potent than carbon dioxide," Allen Hershkowitz, a senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a written statement last month.
Hershkowitz, who has been involved in waste management for the past 25 years and has reviewed projects all over the country, endorsed the plan presented by the county and Anaergia.
"The government of Maui should be commended for seeking to enhance the county's recycling infrastructure," Hershkowitz said. "The opportunity that Maui now has by attracting a company willing to invest tens of millions of dollars to enhance the island's recycling infrastructure is not something to be discarded casually."
Anaergia, which currently has more than 1,600 operational renewable energy projects worldwide, has agreed to finance, design, construct, own and operate its facility at the landfill. The project is expected to provide about 150 construction jobs and up to 40 operations jobs on Maui.
When completed, the resource recovery facility will be able to turn the county's municipal solid waste stream into three end products: recyclables to be shipped and processed off island, as some of the waste currently is; liquefied natural gas from the organic waste; and refuse-derived fuel blocks from the inorganic waste.
Some environmentalists have expressed concern about the refuse-derived fuel blocks that must be incinerated - whether on-island or off-island - to be used as energy.
"It's burning municipal solid waste, which is full of toxic materials," said Jeff Stark with the Maui Recycling Group. "Plus, there's no market for it on-island, so it would cost more greenhouse gases to ship it wherever."
But Anaergia President Arun Sharma said the company has been in talks with potential buyers both on- and off-island, and there is a market for the refuse-derived fuel blocks, which he said will be processed so that, when burned, will burn as clean as possible. NRDC officials have said that recycling materials - even if it means using an incinerator - is still better than putting it in a landfill.
Sharma said about 15 percent or less of the county's municipal solid waste stream that cannot be recycled - mostly dirt, rocks and little scraps - will be dumped into the landfill. The majority of the waste would be shipped off-island as recyclables or converted into liquefied natural gas on Maui. About 20 to 25 percent of the total waste stream will be shredded and turned into solid refuse-derived fuel, sold either on-island, in-state or internationally.
The option of turning organic material into compost also is a possibility, depending on a pending partnership with Maui EKO Compost, Sharma said.
Maui EKO Compost, which has been diverting green waste from the county landfill for 18 years, had expressed concern that Anaergia's project would displace it. In recent months, though, the company has been in talks with Anaergia about how the two businesses may forge a partnership that would allow EKO to continue its operations.
As of Friday, talks were ongoing, according to EKO spokeswoman Brittany Smart. She said company officials have not yet had a chance to review the recently signed contract between Anaergia and the county.
Pacific Biodiesel, a partner and subcontractor of Maui EKO Compost, has also been wary of how Anaergia's project would affect its operations. The company has diverted fats, oils and grease from the county waste stream to produce biodiesel fuel for 17 years.
Pacific Biodiesel officials declined to comment on the recently signed contract Friday.
"I'm excited," said county Department of Environmental Management Director Kyle Ginoza, whose department drafted the original request for proposals in 2012. "The whole goal of this project was to realize as much landfill diversion as possible."
The matter appeared before the Maui County Council's Policy and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee last month, but it was deferred until a contract between Anaergia and the county is solidified.
Ginoza said it was up to the committee's chairman, Riki Hokama, to decide whether the matter would be heard by the committee again. However, the mayor has already signed the contract, and while the council's approval is desired, the project is not contingent upon the council's approval.
"At this point, it's pretty much a done deal," Ginoza said.
An attempt to reach Hokama for comment late Friday afternoon was unsuccessful.
Maui Resource Recovery Facility is anticipated to be fully operational in 2017, with construction expected to start within 18 to 24 months, after securing the necessary permits, officials said.
* Eileen Chao can be reached at email@example.com.