Pasco approves $260 million expansion of waste-to-energy plant

Construction will begin next year to expand plant capacity to 1,565 tons per day.
Pasco County waste-to-energy plant which is operated by Covanta Corporation in Spring Hill.
Pasco County waste-to-energy plant which is operated by Covanta Corporation in Spring Hill. [ Pasco County ]
Published Sept. 8

Despite the expense, Pasco County officials didn’t hesitate this week to commit more than half a billion dollars to expanding and securing operations of the waste-to-energy plant in Spring Hill for another decade.

The plant allows Pasco to further extend the life of its landfill space, a precious commodity, said Pasco Solid Waste Director Justin Roessler.

Over the last couple of years, the county has been crafting a complex plan for the expansion and financing, which would add a fourth boiler to the plant and would increase its capacity from 1,050 tons per day by another 515 tons. According to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, that extra boiler will convert waste to generate approximately 18 megawatts of electricity per day.

In addition to approving the $260 million price tag for that construction, the commission also agreed to another $290 million to have Covanta Corporation design, build and continue operating the Pasco County Resource Recovery Facility.

“The expansion is needed to help Pasco County serve its growing population with safe and effective solid waste disposal,” said Joe Kilsheimer, executive director of the Florida Waste-to-Energy Coalition, in a news release.

“Since 2000, Pasco County has grown by about 37 percent,” he said. “With 591,000 residents today, Pasco County is expected to add another 223,000 residents by 2045.”

“I think what this does is save us a lot of landfill space,” said Pasco Commission chairperson Jack Mariano. “It will save us from sending waste out of county (for disposal) and having to pay a lot of extra fees.”

The Pasco facility is one of 10 waste-to-energy plants in Florida. As a peninsula with densely populated coastal communities, Florida relies on burning trash to produce power more than any other state, Kilsheimer said.

Pasco County's waste-to-energy plant slated for expansion in Spring Hill.
Pasco County's waste-to-energy plant slated for expansion in Spring Hill. [ Pasco County ]

Roessler told commissioners that the agreement with Covanta will be financed largely through a combination of cash reserves and future bonding. The agreement also provides the design-builder with incentives to deliver the project on time and under budget, Roessler said.

He also said the Pasco plant expansion will be the first in the United States since the construction of a facility in Palm Beach County in 2015 and will take advantage of several federal funding opportunities under the Inflation Reduction Act.

In 1988, the Pasco County Commission hired Covanta to design, build, and operate the Pasco County facility. The county amended the service agreement assigning Covanta the job of operating and maintaining the facility several times with the current term running out at the end of next year. The new agreement will last through the end of 2034.

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Construction on the expansion is expected to begin next summer with completion in the summer of 2026.

County officials have set aside funding over several years to cover the cost. In 2019, the commission approved the “7 for 7″ plan in which Pasco residents have paid a flat cost of $7 per year on their property tax bill over a seven-year period to pay for the waste-to-energy plant expansion.

In the memo to commissioners on the project, county staff notes that the plan was established before COVID and the inflation impacts that have happened since then. After that seven year period expires, “rates will need to be adjusted periodically to remain consistent with inflation,” according to the memo.