Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Pinellas County poised to change operators at waste-to-energy plant

CLEARWATER — The fledgling firm that operates Pinellas County's $800 million waste-to-energy plant plans to fight a county decision that would keep the company from trying to land a new contract.

The County Commission on Tuesday voted 6-1 to start negotiations with Covanta Projects and Wheelabrator Technologies, the two firms ranked highest by staff after the county put out a request for qualifications.

That means GCS Energy Recovery of Pinellas, the lowest ranked of the four companies that submitted qualifications, will not get to make its pitch to continue to run a facility that generates more than $50 million a year in revenue for the county.

"My concern is I don't have the expertise to overrule the staff's analysis that (GCS) isn't in a fiscal position to support this operation moving forward," Commissioner Ken Welch said before the vote.

GCS company president Dan Elias said after the meeting that the evaluation process was flawed. He plans to submit an official bid protest.

"I'm confident that at the end of the day and the end of the process, the facts will be clear, and they're not as they were represented today," Elias said.

The facility on 114th Avenue N in St. Petersburg burns garbage to produce steam that powers turbines. Duke Energy buys about 60 megawatts of electricity a year, paying a monthly $3.5 million "capacity" payment, plus another roughly $12 million annually. The plant operator is paid per ton of garbage processed. The contract for the operator can be worth as much as $35 million a year.

GCS took over in December 2012 after Veolia Environnement, a French company, sold its contract. The Pinellas plant is the first of its kind that GCS, which was founded in 2008, has operated. The facility was in dire need of repair.

When the production rate continued to drop early last year, threatening the county's contract with Duke, the county agreed to cover GCS's operating costs to help boost the production numbers and reduce the plant's emissions. In return, GCS agreed that its own contract, which was set to run through 2024, would end Dec. 31, 2014, and the county would put the operation contract out to bid.

"What we agreed to is a fair procurement process," Elias said. "That's what we agreed to and that's what we expect."

The county put out a call for qualifications, and its staff ranked the firms on experience and financial strength, among other criteria. GCS submitted its qualifications as a joint venture with a large Spanish engineering firm called Abeinsa but still earned fewer than half the points of Covanta and Wheelabrator.

"We're trying to protect that asset as best we can," purchasing director Joe Lauro told the board. "You have to set the bar at a certain level."

Six of seven commissioners agreed with a staff recommendation to begin negotiations with the top two firms. Commissioner Norm Roche abstained, saying he wanted to get proposals from all four firms.

"I have a hard time recognizing why our current provider is punished for not having enough experience when their experience is our operation," Roche said.

Interim county administrator Mark Woodard warned that deviating from the advertised bid process would likely spark a protest from Covanta and Wheelabrator.

Those firms, Woodard said, "have great experience and depth of resources, both technically and financially."

Pinellas County poised to change operators at waste-to-energy plant 05/20/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 20, 2014 11:07pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Britain lowers terror threat level to 'severe' as more arrested


    MANCHESTER, England — Britain reduced its terrorism threat level a notch, from "critical" to "severe," as authorities said major progress has been made in unravelling the plot behind the Manchester bombing. More arrests are expected.

    An army bomb disposal team works with members of the police in the Moss Side area of Manchester, England, on Saturday. British police say they are evacuating residents around a house being searched in connection with the Manchester concert bombing. Police are searching a number of properties and have 11 suspects in custody in connection with Monday's explosion at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, which killed more than 20 people and injured dozens. (Jonathan Brady/PA via AP)
  2. Miami pollster Sergio Bendixen dies


    Sergio Bendixen, the first Hispanic to run a U.S. presidential campaign who later pioneered public-opinion polling among Latinos and other immigrant populations, died late Friday in Miami. He was 68.

    Sergio Bendixen.
  3. Why the Lightning would consider trading Jonathan Drouin

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — This summer, the Lightning could trade one of its most dynamic young players ever.

    Tampa Bay Lightning left wing Jonathan Drouin (27) celebrates with his team on the bench after beating Chicago Blackhawks goalie Scott Darling (33) to score his second goal of the period and to tie the score at 4 to 4 during second period action at the Amalie Arena in Tampa Monday evening (03/27/17).
  4. Why the Lightning should keep Jonathan Drouin

    Lightning Strikes

    Keep him.

    Jonathan Drouin is live bait. The Lightning is ready to run the hook through him and cast him out there again. Drouin has enough talent for the Lightning to meet some defensive needs in a deal.

    Keep him.

    Lightning wing Jonathan Drouin celebrates after beating Los Angeles Kings goalie Peter Budaj during the first period of Tuesday's win in Tampa. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD   |   Times]
  5. Romano: When a life is more valuable than an arrest

    Public Safety

    Before examining the details, let's propose a question:

    This is a handout request to accompany school portraits of Joey Boylan, who died of a drug overdose and who is being written about in John Romano's column for Sunday. We'd like to run a mug of Joey with the column. Any of the first three attached pictures would be fine to use. We don't need them all. Just pick your favorite portrait and put that in the system. Thanks.