Anaergia aims to install anaerobic digester to produce methane gas
The Maui News
The Sierra Club Maui Group and Maui Tomorrow have filed a lawsuit challenging the approval of an environmental impact statement for Anaergia Services’ project with Maui County for a renewable energy conversion and sludge processing project at the Wailuku-Kahului Wastewater Reclamation Facility.
The project led by Anaergia’s Maui All Natural Alternative aims to install an anaerobic digester to produce methane gas from energy crops grown on 500 acres of former Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co. lands. The gas would be refined at the Kahului wastewater facility site and fuel a combined heat-and-power engine to generate electricity for the treatment plant located on 18.8 acres next to the ocean on Amala Place.
Waste heat from the engine would dry wastewater solid matter, known as “sludge.”
Undried sludge has been used for years as raw material for Maui EKO Systems to create compost at the Central Maui Landfill. Without the sludge, EKO is expected to go out of business.
According to the plaintiffs’ announcement of the lawsuit, the project entails trucking sludge from wastewater facilities in Kihei and Lahaina to the Kahului facility to be dried using methane gas byproducts of the plant’s anaerobic digestion project.
The announcement says that Anaergia was the sole bidder for the project. Anaergia holds a county waste-to-energy landfill gas contract, which an independent auditor determined would cost the county $35 million more than anticipated, the plaintiffs said.
The groups challenge Anaergia’s preparation of the environmental impact statement, as opposed to the county, “for reasons including the county’s unwritten policy of imposing less-strict oversight over projects for which they have outside entities prepare an EIS.”
They also contend the environmental review failed to adequately consider predicted sea-level rise.
“Taxpayers should not be burdened with underwriting complicated science experiments that will only cost taxpayers more money and likely do nothing to protect the environment,” said Maui Tomorrow Executive Director Albert Perez. “Maui County needs to move forward, not backward, by getting the Kahului treatment facility out of the tsunami zone and away from sea-level rise.”
Sierra Club Maui Group President Rob Weltman said: The “Sierra Club is very much in favor of increasing the use of renewable energy, including microgrids for specific purposes. However, it must be done in a responsible way which does not result in new threats to our sensitive shoreline environment.”
There was no immediate comment Thursday afternoon from Maui County or Anaergia.
County officials have said Anaergia would develop the facility at no construction cost to the county. In return, the county would pay 29 cents per kilowatt hour for electricity produced at the plant. The cost of disposing the sludge would be reduced from $103 to $80 per ton by switching from EKO Compost to Anaergia, officials said.
Built in 1973, the wastewater treatment plant can treat up to 7.9 million gallons of Central Maui wastewater daily. The plant is forecast to reach its treatment capacity by 2030.
COMMUNITY GROUPS CHALLENGE EIS
FOR PROPOSED KAHULUI SLUDGE FARM AND POWER PLANT
KAHULUI, MAUI – The Sierra Club Maui Group and Maui Tomorrow are challenging Maui County and Anaergia Services’ proposed sludge farm and power plant along the Kahului shoreline by filing a lawsuit in Maui’s Environmental Court today. The groups are represented by attorney Lance D. Collins.
The groups challenge the County Environmental Management Director’s approval of an environmental impact statement (EIS) for Anaergia’s proposed sludge processing, energy generation, and biocrop growing/burning project. Under the proposal, sludge from wastewater treatment facilities at Kīhei, Lahaina, and the Wailuku-Kahului Wastewater Reclamation Facility
(Kahului Wastewater Facility) would be trucked to a site at the Kahului Wastewater Facility and dried using methane gas byproducts of the anaerobic digestion of “biocrops” grown on 500 acres of former sugar cane lands, with additional energy from a propane burner. This process is also proposed to generate electricity for the Kahului Wastewater Facility.
The project was first proposed through a county procurement. Anaergia was the sole bidder in that process. Anaergia also currently holds a County waste-to energy landfill gas contract, which an independent auditor determined will cost the County $35 million more than anticipated when procured. The community groups challenge Anaergia’s preparation of the EIS, as opposed to the County, for reasons including the County’s unwritten policy of imposing less strict oversight over projects for which they have outside entities prepare an EIS.
The groups also challenged the failure to adequately consider sea level rise predictions. Maui Tomorrow Executive Director, Albert Perez commented, “Taxpayers should not be burdened with underwriting complicated science experiments that will only cost taxpayers more money and likely do nothing to protect the environment. Maui County needs to move forward, not backward, by getting the Kahului treatment facility out of the tsunami zone and away from sea level rise.”
The Kahului Wastewater Facility’s precarious location was specifically called out in the State’s Sea Level Rise Adaptation Report, published in December 2017. “Sierra Club is very much in favor of increasing the use of renewable energy, including in microgrids for specific purposes,” said Rob Weltman, president of Sierra Club Maui Group. “However, it must be done in a responsible way which does not result in new threats to our sensitive shoreline environment.”
The proposal will result in nearly 3,130 tons per year of dried sludge and nearly 30,000 tons per year of biocrop byproduct “digestate,” but the EIS does not indicate how the County will dispose of them.
Maui County is contracting w/ Anaergia Services, LLC via its local Maui company MANA, LLC (Maui All Natural Alternatives) to build a waste digester power plant.
BUT TO MAKE IT WORK, ANAERGIA NEEDS TO:
Get water from A&B to –
Grow sorghum crops on A&B land to –
Harvest the crops to –
Bring the crops to Kahului to –
Put in their not-yet-built $20 million waste digester plant to –
Create biogas to power the Wailuku-Kahului Reclamation Facility (WKWWRF) next to it.
THEN: Anaergia will use the heat from the digester to dry all of Maui’s human sludge (excrement) and make it into fertilizer pellets to sell back to Maui residents. And the plant will be located in the tsunami evacuation zone.
Sierra Club Maui submitted comments on this project, back in late 2016 when the County Council’s Infrastructure and Environmental Management Committee (IEM) was considering a resolution authorizing a lease to Anaergia for this facility. Then, very quickly, the lease resolution was pinched out of the IEM Committee by Council member Don Couch and Chair Mike White, and brought before the full Council in the last meeting of 2016, where the lease was approved without further discussion. In January 2017, some new council members were sworn into office who likely would have put up a fight against rubber stamping this lease – so the actions in December 2016 ensured the new council members couldn’t stop the project.
Flash forward to January 2018. Anaergia/MANA has submitted a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) to the county, which must be approved before the project can move forward, and they are holding a public meeting on Wednesday, January 24th for the public to learn about the project.
We urge Sierra Club Maui members and supporters to attend this meeting and to voice concern with this project.
At first glance, the project might look eco-conscious and economically viable – but when you delve into the details, it becomes very clear this project is, in a nut shell, going to lead to a lot of money spent for little-to-probably no improvement, while getting in the way of real improvement in the county’s usage of renewable energy and fiscal responsibility.
There are more efficient, safer, and CHEAPER ways to power the Wailuku-Kahului Wastewater Reclamation Facility (WKWWRF) with renewable energy, like:
Use solar power and battery storage (there was a much more affordable project planned with Haleakala Solar that was unceremoniously cancelled by the county, after which the Anaergia project was announced)***
Harness biogas from existing compost and trash on the island (Maui currently has no industrial compost heap, food goes into the trash stream)
***The cost of electrical generation for the cancelled solar PV project with Haleakala Solar at WKWWTF would have provided energy at about half the cost of Anaergia’s project. The solar PV project was cancelled by former Dept. of Environmental Management Director Kyle Ginoza after HaleakalaSolar had already done $75,000 in design work. At that time, solar energy would have cost about 15.9 cents/kwh for the first year, compared with Anaergia’s 29 cents/kwh. And since then, MECO’s latest Purchase Power Agreement for solar has dropped to 11.7 cents/kwh (with cost of storage factored in, the final price would be higher, but it would still cost much less than 29 cents/kwh).
Here are our concerns that we gave to the Council in 2016 and that are still very valid today:
Cost: Initially, Maui County would pay for electricity at a rate close to that of today’s oil-based electricity from MECO, but with a contracted rate increase of 2.2% per year for twenty years. Without a doubt, within five or ten years the county will be kicking itself for committing to such an exorbitant price for electricity as the cost of renewable energy continues to fall (and solar is already well below even the starting price). At face value, the proposal may sound economical because Anaergia and its subsidiary assume the cost of building the power plant. However, there is no reason to consider Anaergia to be a charitable organization. Its calculation of the charges to Maui County are based on recouping the $20M construction costs, costs for permitting, costs for running the plant for 20 years (including energy crops), and profits. Rather than a great deal, this can be considered a loan at very high interest to the county. If the project made sense for other reasons, it would be more cost-efficient to issue a bond or seek grants and finance it without contracting Anaergia.
Location: There was agreement at a 2016 hearing, including by Director Stewart Stant, that the location which would host the power plant, being at sea level and in a tsunami zone, is a poor choice. The county has been thinking about moving the WKWRF inland. Director Stant said it is more urgent to move the Wailuku Pumping Station, which supplies waste to WKWRF (Wailuku Kahului Wastewater Reclamation Facility), than to move WKWRF itself. However, one does not exclude the other. Adding a power plant to the existing WKWRF means, 1) it will be much more difficult to move WKWRF, and 2) it canʻt be moved until 20 years after the power plant is online (which itself is likely years away).
Green Waste Disposal Costs: Currently, EKO collects and combines green waste with sludge to produce compost, which it then sells. Removing the lucrative sludge element from the county’s contract with EKO may cause EKO to terminate its remaining green waste contract, as green waste alone has very little resale value. The county would need to contract with a new entity that will collect only green waste; this entity will likely charge a much higher rate per ton because the new entity will need to apply for permits, as well as provide its own location and industrial equipment because EKO’s current location may become a landfill site; with the resale value of green waste so low, the entity will need to charge sky high prices to make a profit. We urge you to pay close attention to the timeline of when EKO’s contract may terminate and when the county could feasibly have a replacement green waste collection entity online. By state law, green waste is not allowed in the landfill, so the county cannot throw away green waste while waiting for a new composting program to come online. [In news articles like this one, county officials claims that the MANA project will bring down costs, but they always fail to mention that the reason why EKO costs are high is because the county wouldn’t give EKO a contract that would last more than 2 years.]
Alternatives: Director Stant said that the reason for proposing the electricity generating plant for the WKWRF instead of the Kihei Wastewater Reclamation Facility is that the Kihei facility already has an excess of solar power during the day but has no way to store the power for use in the evening and at night. A much more cost-efficient investment would be to add battery storage to the Kihei facility. Combining solar and storage at Kihei could be a pilot project which could then be replicated at the other facilities.
Community input: County’s Corporation Counsel said there is no room for public input during contract negotiation for services (which she said is 95% done). However, collecting public information and input only after a contract is finalized is an expensive and cumbersome model which generally leads to community dissatisfaction.
These were our concerns regarding the Environmental Impact Statement Preparation Notice, which are still very relevant for the Draft EIS:
Conflict of Interest: Currently, the county is both the proposing agency and the accepting agency, which is a clear conflict of interest. Because the project will be built on state-owned land, we ask that a state agency be the accepting agency. This will resolve this conflict of interest.
Third Party Consultation: We are concerned that this project’s FEIS has not been outsourced to a non-partial third party consultant. If MANA researches and writes its own FEIS, it is very unlikely that potentially serious concerns will be highlighted and examined and that feasible alternatives will be given fair consideration.
Local knowledge: We are concerned that because no local expert consultants have been hired to assess all potential environmental and cultural impacts (especially on the local bird populations in the Kanahā Wildlife Sanctuary) that the FEIS will be severely lacking in important local expertise. We would like to see local avian experts brought on board to analyze this project.
Tsunami Zone: We are very worried about not only placing more expensive long-term infrastructure in the tsunami zone but also the effects it may have on the environment if a tsunami or extreme flooding event happens. If a catastrophe occurs, how will MANA mitigate the risk of waste, flammable gas, and other toxic emissions escaping from the facility into the surrounding industrial and residential areas?
MECO: How will the county negotiate with MECO to take the WKWWRF off its grid? What might be the exit costs of taking the facility off the grid?
Energy Analysis: For the “Identification of Alternatives,” we would like independent energy and waste consultants who have no connection to MANA to create a more robust list of potential alternatives and analysis of their pros and cons.
Carbon and methane footprint: While the facility will create energy from renewable resources, we have doubts as to whether it will actually reduce our carbon and methane footprint. We would like the FEIS to contain a complete analysis of the full carbon and methane footprint of the facility, as well as a listing of any VOC emissions that may occur.