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Wiping Out Waste: Gov. Pedro Rossello Signs Bill To Allow Construction Of Plant In Caguas To Process 30% Of Puerto Rico’s Garbage, Including San Juan

Squeaky Clean Thermoselect Gasification Technology To Transform San Juan Garbage Into Electricity And 100% Usable By-products


August 10, 2000
Copyright © 2000 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.

Now You See It, Now You Don’t

Puerto Rico is one step closer to solving the threatening garbage crisis, and for the metro area, the panic is almost over.

Gov. Pedro Rossello signed Senate Joint Resolution 2188, a historic bipartisan effort overwhelmingly approved by the Senate of Puerto Rico (21 in favor, two against) and the House of Representatives (27 in favor, two against), which gives the green light for the developing and constructing a privately owned waste-to-energy (WTE) project in Caguas to dispose of metro-area garbage.

WTE plants thermally convert waste into secondary products and energy under strict regulations mandated by the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Energy generated will be sold to the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (Prepa).

San Juan’s landfill–filled to its maximum capacity–is scheduled to close in December. An alternate site to deposit garbage after the closure has not been designated.

And six years after EPA closed half of the island’s 64 landfills due to lack of compliance with new federal regulations, Puerto Rico still doesn’t have the infrastructure needed to dispose of its solid waste.

The local solid waste problem, ignored for many years, is presently one of the most critical infrastructure problems Puerto Rico faces, recognized by members of all political parties.

"Definitely, from the infrastructure point of view, our greatest challenge is managing solid waste," said New Progressive Party gubernatorial candidate Carlos Pesquera in a recent interview with CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. "It not only has bearing on the environment and public health, it is also key to economic development because it can be a costly and limiting factor to our economy."

San Juan Mayor and Popular Democratic Party gubernatorial candidate Sila Maria Calderon, who made the decision to close the San Juan landfill, has expressed concern about the solid waste situation in Puerto Rico. "Solid waste management is a serious problem that needs to be attended responsibly and without party-line political considerations. Certainly, the Solid Waste Management Authority’s (SWMA) work itinerary is late," she said. "For example, take the case of the San Juan municipality. We don’t know where our waste will be deposited."

Other members of the government are also alarmed.

"We are years behind in the treatment of solid waste. It is fundamental for Puerto Rico to establish modern technology to dispose of solid waste because of our condition as an island. We simply don’t have the space to keep expanding," Sen. Eduardo Bhatia, (PDP-at large) told CARIBBEAN BUSINESS.

"Solid waste management is one of the most important problems in Puerto Rico and probably the most underestimated," says Sen. Kenneth McClintock (PNP-at large). "It has been talked about for about a decade, but here we are on an island, burying garbage and wasting valuable land. In the year 2000, no waste-to-energy plant is operating. We [legislative body] usually don’t get into these things, but given the seriousness of the situation, officials from different parties pushed this project [Caguas’ WTE project] forward. We just can’t keep opening more landfills."

After decades of Puerto Rico flirting with the possibility of building a WTE plant on the island, the $400 million Caguas WTE project, which will now enter a required process of environmental permits and other negotiations, could possibly become the long-awaited solution for the metro area. "This plant is a good, viable solution that will use what studies identify as the best WTE technology available worldwide," said Caguas Mayor William Miranda Marin.

The WTE project

Caguas will serve as host to the development of a privately financed, owned, and operated WTE plant. An alliance will be responsible for financing, constructing, and operating the facility.

The project alliance include Swiss-based technology provider Thermoselect, Philadelphia-based Interstate Waste Technologies Inc. as project developers, construction giant Flour Daniel Inc., and France-based Montenay Power Corp. as plant operators.

Dutch bank ABM Amro, which helped financed privately owned cogeneration plant Eco-Electrica, will serve as financial advisor. The facility will be financed using combination of equity, investment tax credits, and tax-exempt debt issued by an agency of Puerto Rico’s government.

The WTE plant will use Thermoselect gasification technology (See sidebar), which converts waste in 100% recyclable products. Unlike other WTE facilities, the plant accepts all types of waste including medical and industrial waste, appliances, and tires–the latter being a source of recent local controversy.

The plant’s technology allows for the recovery of fuel gas, mineral aggregate, iron-alloy pellets, salt, metal concentrate, elemental sulfur, and other by-products that can be sold in secondary markets.

"This plant will produce about 3% of the air emissions generated by the Eco-Electrica plant," said Jorge Acevedo (PNP-Hatillo). "People are opposed to these [waste-to-energy] projects because they are misinformed about what this project can do for the environment and what it means to Puerto Rico. If we don’t take action, Puerto Rico will have a total garbage crisis. Besides, we can’t call ourselves the bridge towards new technology if we don’t embrace new, more efficient technology to dispose garbage."

"The Thermoselect system recycles 100% of the solid waste and generates products that can be used commercially," said Mark Augenblick, president of Interstate General Co. (IGC). Interstate Waste Technologies, a subsidiary of IGC, signed an agreement to market Thermoselect technology in the Western Hemisphere.

"It eliminates the need for a landfill because the process produces no ash. It is not an incineration technology and produces 97% less air emissions than allowed by the federal EPA," he continued. "The technology has operated successfully since 1992 and is cost competitive with other modern forms of waste disposal [such as landfills]," Augenblick said, adding that Thermoselect facilities have been proven in operation in Italy, Germany, and Japan.

The facility will be comprised of up to 10 Thermoselect modules (See sidebar), each with capacity to process 330 tons of garbage per day. The facility can potentially dispose of 3,300 tons of garbage a day, or about 30% of the islands total waste per day.

The alliance proposes to dispose garbage of the municipalities of Guaynabo, Cataño, Bayamon, Aguas Buenas, Trujillo Alto, Carolina, Canovanas, Loiza, San Juan, Caguas, and Cidra.

The plant will be adjacent to the Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority’s (Prasa) regional wastewater-treatment facility and waste-transfer station, both owned by the municipality of Caguas. It will use the Prasa facility as a source of water. According to Augenblick, the plant doesn’t produce water discharge.

Other Thermoselect facilities are located in Karlsruhe, Germany, which started operations last year and one in Tokyo, Japan, which is in its start-up process. Ten other facilities using this technology are under construction in Germany, Switzerland, and Brazil, among other countries.

Amendment to the Plan

Senate Joint Resolution 2188 authorizes the secretary of the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources (DNER) and the SWMA executive director to amend the 1995 Plan of Regional Infrastructure for the Recycling and Disposal of Waste in Puerto Rico (Plan by its Spanish acronym).

Plan’s goal is to create local solid-waste-disposal infrastructure to be used for the next 30 years. It divides the island into nine regions and contemplates developing 72 solid-waste- management projects among these regions. Plan’s projects include two WTE plants, nine regional landfills, transfer stations (midpoint receiving depots for solid waste before being transported to a designated facility), compost plants, and material-recovery facilities (recycling plants).

Many of Plan’s cornerstone projects are behind schedule, including the two WTE plants.

A WTE project slated for Guaynabo was supposed to be operating last year, according to Plan. As the contract was to be signed after a bidding process in 1992 by Norecorp (an alliance between the municipalities of Guaynabo and Carolina), Guaynabo’s mayor passed away. His successor was not in favor of hosting a WTE project. Nothing was signed, which left the metro area without a place to dispose its garbage.

SWMA was scheduled to issue another bid for a second WTE plant for the metro area, but the Request for Proposal has yet to be issued. Senate 2188 amendment will substitute the WTE plant designated by Plan for Guaynabo with the plant proposed by Caguas and the alliance. Caguas and Interstate Waste Technologies have been attempting to develop a WTE project since 1998.

Once Plan is amended, the project will enter the usual permitting process including public hearings and environmental impact statements, construction, and other negotiations, which could take three years at a minimum.

The clock is ticking.

"We need to short-circuit the bureaucratic processes. The private sector has come up with a project using an environmentally superior technology. Garbage disposal should not be a government task," said McClintock.

The project has the support of Senators Jorge Santini (PNP-San Juan) and Eduardo Bhatia, who are rival candidates for mayor of San Juan.

"The central government has been passive in taking care of the local garbage problem. So we [legislative body] had to assume leadership," Bhatia told CARIBBEAN BUSINESS.

"In the case of San Juan, this project will give an adequate and environmentally sound alternative given that the landfill closes in December. And it should be done as soon as possible," said Santini.

Meanwhile, SWMA selected last February Ogden Waste to Energy Inc. as the preferred vendor to develop an WTE plant for Region seven, the northeast side of the island. According to SWMA Executive Director Roxanna Longoria, SWMA is under negotiations with the company and the contract has yet to be signed.

San Juan’s critical situation

The 170-acre San Juan landfill–used to dispose about 800 to 1,000 tons of garbage per day–has five months left of useful life.

The municipality attempted to solve the situation temporarily in February 1999 by issuing a bid and selecting private company Waste Management to build a transfer station to transport the capital’s waste to an Humacao landfill, which is also operated by Waste Management.

DNER and SWMA reportedly opposed San Juan’s initiative saying it didn’t comply with the government’s solid-waste-management initiative. Any project outside Plan requires an SWMA certificate of conformity. Consequently, the first step in developing solid- waste-management projects not originally contemplated by Plan is procuring SWMA determination that the project is consistent with Plan.

Humacao also expressed intense opposition to the San Juan municipality alternative. "We will keep fighting to keep San Juan’s garbage out of Humacao," said Senator Carlos Davila (PNP-Humacao), also a supporter of the Caguas WTE project.

The DNER has not yet established an alternative landfill to dispose of metro area solid waste. But even if it does, solutions will be short-term. EPA has designated the 32 local landfills that are still operational as being temporary. They only have a few more years of useful life.

This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.
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