The third annual Renewable Energy from Waste Conference was this past November in Orlando. This year, REW offered a half-day preconference workshop focused on public sector planing and implementation of waste conversion projects. Rick Sapir, partner, Hawkins, Delafield and Wood LLC, and I provided guidance and experiences from our decades of involvement in this industry as advisors. Mark Hammond, CEO and executive director, Solid Waste Authority of Palm Beach County (Florida), lent his perspective as a public agency executive.
We noted that projects take a long time to implement, which offers BIG challenges given that election cycles are typically two or four years. The new 3,000-tons-per-day waste-to-energy facility in Palm Beach County, Florida, that initiated commercial operations this past June took about eight years to plan and get to that point. We recommended that doing a two-step procurement process is preferred, but needs to have significant pre-development conducted by the public sponsoring agency to attract and sustain interest from potential private partners.
At the top of the list of pre-development project building blocks is a site for the new infrastructure—a site that can be permitted and is or will be acceptable to the community. Several procurements by major public agencies were issued recently without sites being included, asking the proposer to provide a site or to work together and find one later.
Putting forward such a procurement that requires a new site is not a prudent approach if the sponsoring agency wants to see new conversion technology implemented. And, it was generally agreed in the workshop that locating on current sites where solid waste operations are taking place should be a priority.
Lower cost landfilling options have held back many projects from going forward. It is not surprising that conversion technologies are viewed as competitors with alternative lower cost landfill disposal options. Some approaches discussed to lower costs were:
- developing cogeneration applications;
- providing internalized residue disposal;
- developing solid fuel markets at existing cement kilns or coal-fired utility boilers; and
- making collection services more efficient through technology changes, service choices and/or closing the market.
Next on the list is having a project champion—one or more elected officials—that will be involved and knowledgeable about the project and its necessity and is involved in making incremental decisions along the planning and implementation process. The importance of this cannot be overemphasized.
We also discussed why projects that appear to be planned well fail. A common element was not including more recycling as part of the solution.
There was fear that recycling would be hurt, and as a result opposition came forward and caused the project to stop and take a step back. In a similar scenario, elected officials were convinced that more and better recycling could be implemented and there would be no need for a new asset to lessen the demand on landfills. Recycling is now a core function and it must be integrated into any resource recovery project.
Contracting and financing these capital intensive assets takes lots of money and requires the involvement of many parties and advisors. It is a complicated process that needs experienced technical, legal and financial advisors along with strong internal and external communications carried out throughout the entire process.
Taking shortcuts can result in the project implementation being stalled or even worse, stopped. It is clearly an undertaking not to be taken lightly, nor for those without substantial resources and development acumen to apply.