Pasco takes first step to expand its trash-to-energy incinerator

The County Commission begins negotiations with Covanta Pasco to design and build and operate an expanded incinerator.
Pasco County is negotiating over expansion of its trash incinerator in Shady Hills.
Pasco County is negotiating over expansion of its trash incinerator in Shady Hills.
Published April 21, 2020

NEW PORT RICHEY — To move toward the goal of turning all of its garbage into renewable energy in the coming years, Pasco County commissioners on Tuesday unanimously agreed to begin negotiating with their current resource recovery facility operator Covanta Pasco, Inc. to design, build and operate an expanded incinerator.

The county’s maximum price tag for those services is $525 million.

That cost was alarming to Commissioner Jack Mariano, although he said he felt better when he realized the number was for designing, building and operating the facilities. Still, he said that Pasco needs to push harder for federal laws to change which would allow such waste to energy processes to return more funding to the county from the energy produced.

He said he wanted to see the county work with Covanta at both the federal and state level on the issue because, while he considers the process "the right thing to do,'' he added, "this is a huge amount of money.''

Pasco has pushed for more participation in recycling from its citizens, especially in removing items that hinder energy production efficiency — such as plastics — from the waste stream. Mariano said he would like to see that push to recycle ramp up even more.

The price of the project also got Commissioner Ron Oakley’s attention but added that the expansion is needed because "it’s just something we need into the future.''

Commissioner Kathryn Starkey said she would like to see the county go back to having someone lobby federal lawmakers on important issues such as this one.

Currently the county’s Shady Hills resource recovery facility can handle 950 tons of garbage per day, but 1,100 tons of waste is produced daily. The new incinerator will add another 550 tons per day of capacity to the operation reducing the county’s need to put garbage in an out-of-county landfill. The county hired Covanta to design, build and operate the facility in 1989 and it began operations in 1991. The current agreement with Covanta ends at the end of 2024.

In October, Pasco solid waste officials advertised to find a company to design and build the new incinerator unit and operate it from 2025 through 2034. Thirty four companies downloaded the bid package on the job but only Covanta responded. That prompted county staff to do some industry research to determine whether another bidding process should be opened, according to the memo to the commission from John Power, county solid waste director.

That research indicated that the availability of other waste to energy operators in the marketplace "was very limited.'' Other major providers in the market have consolidated in the years since the Pasco operation was built and opened and some have left the market in North America all together, the examination concluded. "Covanta has become the single, prominent entity with sufficient capitalization remaining in the North American waste-to-energy market,'' Power wrote.

Having components which match with those in the existing operation are another plus for using the same company, county staff noted.

The county’s purchasing ordinance allows negotiation with a single source in such cases. The total to design, build and operate the expansion would potentially allow expenses of up to $200 million for design and construction of the new incinerator unit and up to $325 million to operate the existing plant and the expansion for the 10 years. County officials anticipate construction of the fourth unit in 2022 and for operation to begin in 2025.

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After negotiating the details of a contract, county staff will bring it back to county commissioners for a final vote.

Pasco property owners pay for the cost of the waste-to-energy operation through an assessment on their annual tax bill. That amount was increased from $65 to $72 last year with plans for another $7 increase each year for the next six.