KIUC to explore waste-to-energy plant

Kaua‘i Island Utility Cooperative announced a contract with Barlow Projects to develop a 5.3 megawatt waste-to-energy facility earlier this month. It’s the second of four renewable energy projects that KIUC hopes will eventually generate almost half of Kaua‘i’s current peak load.

The first project, a 7.5-megawatt biomass facility with Mahogany Lumber and Green Energy Hawaii to convert green waste from lumber farming into energy, should be up and running in 12 to 15 months. KIUC announced the third and fourth contracts this week, with Cleaves & Company for a 4.5-megawatt biomass facility and UPC Kauai Wind Power for a 10.5- to 15-megawatt wind farm.

Now, the Colorado-based Barlow Projects will look into converting solid waste into energy.

“The county (of Kaua‘i) is in the middle of a solid waste management plan, including what to do with non-recyclable waste,” said Jody Allione, project director for Barlow. “We’re one of the alternatives.”

County officials said they hope for a solid waste recommendation plan by the end of June, to be implemented in October.

Since there is not yet a contract to buy waste from the county, it’s not yet a done deal, but Allione said the contract is an important step.

“If we don’t have a fuel supply, we don’t have a contract,” she said. “But in order to give a good bid to the county, it’s good to have that contract (with KIUC) in hand, so we can bid a tight fee.”

Waste-to-energy plants work like conventional power plants, only burning garbage instead of fossil fuels like coal, oil or gas. KIUC officials said every ton of burned trash reduces oil usage by about 45 gallons. To produce 5.3 megawatts of energy, the Barlow facility would have to burn more than 200 tons of trash a day. Barlow does not plan on importing waste.

Allione said the county will run out of landfill space in four to five years, and Barlow’s patented Aireal Combustion System could help reduce that crunch.

“We deal with islands’ and small towns’ garbage,” she said. “We’re geared toward these applications.”

The combustion requires no presorting other than the standard removal of oversized objects and treated lumber, Allione said. Current plans do not call for a shredder, though Allione said one could come down the road.

“If we put a shredder in, it basically chops up automobiles, appliances, mattresses, bulky furniture, things that typically can’t go into a plant,” she said. She said the facility will also burn the “fluff,” or leftover materials from recycled metals and construction and development waste.

Currently, the county pays $56 per ton to dump garbage at the landfill in Kekaha, and Allione said Barlow’s bid will be close to that amount.

While many residents bemoan Hawai‘i’s high price of electricity, others see a silver lining.

“We’re in an unenviable energy position because our rates are so high, until you start talking about renewables,” said Anne Barnes, KIUC supervisor of marketing and communications.

Barnes said many markets on the mainland can’t explore renewable energy because their break-even point is too high. But with the state’s already exhorbitant electricity rates, she said, Hawai‘i is in a better position to explore alternatives.

“We’re a good test market,” Barnes said.

KIUC’s Shelley Paik said if all four renewable energy projects are successful, they could provide about 34 percent of the island’s energy in 2010, based on forecasted need.

Ford Gunter, staff writer, may be reached at fgunter@kauaipubco.com, or 245-3681 (ext. 251).

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