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Kenoi seeks quick building of waste-to-energy facility

The environmental chief also wants the Hilo landfill kept open

By Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 1:39 a.m. HST, Jul 1, 2013

KAILUA-KONA » Hawaii County Mayor Billy Kenoi says he's confident a plant that burns solid waste to generate electricity can be built before he leaves office in 31⁄2 years, but the Big Island's newly appointed environmental management director says the life of Hilo landfill should be extended in case it is not.

Bobby Jean Leithead Todd, who still must be confirmed by the County Council, told the Environmental Management Commission on Wednesday that her office is seeking a consultant who can design techniques to keep the landfill open for five to seven years beyond the previous estimate of five years. The extension, Leithead Todd said, is needed to ensure time for alternatives such as the trash incinerator.

"We are very preliminarily looking at alternatives," Leithead Todd said. "Given the history of the procurement process, we'll probably need that extra time."

Kenoi did not attend the meeting, but said in an interview with West Hawaii Today that the process should not take that long.

"Our goal is to have in the next 31⁄2 years a long-term solution on the ground and implemented," he said. "Any project can take years. We've never let previous timelines stymie us."

The County Council in 2008 killed a proposal by Mayor Harry Kim to build a $125 million waste-to-energy facility because of the cost. Costs rose from early estimates of $60 million or less after contractor Wheelabrator Technologies Inc. tallied the expense of permits, materials and labor.

One potential obstacle to a facility, Leithead Todd said, is the county's current waste stream. The county generates about 419 tons per day, and experts say 500 tons per day is needed to make waste-to-energy incineration economical with current technology.

"I basically said I'm going to come into this job with an open mind," Leithead Todd said. "We'll see what's out there. It has to be consistent with the amount that we have."

Kenoi said Honolulu's HPOWER garbage incinerator has shown what can be done. According to its website, HPOWER burns 2,000 tons per day and provides 7 percent of Oahu's electricity.

"HPOWER has been a model that's worked in Hawaii for two decades," Kenoi said. "The technology has been developed, and we look forward to implementing that solution."

Omaha, Neb.-based HDR Consultants Inc., engineer for the HPOWER garbage incinerator, met June 6 with Leithead Todd. Besides discussing Hawaii County plants, Leithead Todd said, there was tentative discussion about Hawaii County sending solid waste to Oahu's HPOWER plant.

"Even if we pursue one option," Kenoi said, "it's still important to keep all our options open."

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