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Waste Management Board Nominees Ponder Waste-To-Energy

Conn Davis Jr., of St. Thomas, and Lindel Williams, of St. Croix, were nominated to the Virgin Islands Waste Management Authority’s Governing Board. (Photo courtesy V.I. Legislature)

Two men nominated to join the Virgin Islands Waste Management Authority’s Governing Board said they’d seek to modernize services, engage in environmentally sensitive practices, innovate revenue collection, and create a workplace that would attract eager experts. They told a Senate committee Thursday morning that they also had experience in potential of waste-to-energy programs in the territory.

Conn Davis Jr., a St. Thomas-based investment expert and owner of Community Medical Laboratory, and Lindel Williams, a St. Croix construction and engineering expert who was also commissioner of Public Works during the Gov. Roy Lester Schneider administration, both have years of experience in dealing with financing, project management, government bureaucracy, and innovations like waste-to-energy technologies, like a plan recently floated for St. John.

They told the Senate’s Committee on Rules and Judiciary that emphasis on responsibility and innovation was needed.

Davis said, in 2009, he reviewed a plan to use petroleum coke from the Hovensa oil refinery in order to create a waste-to-energy program.

“Upon doing research into the proposed facilities, I found the development plan to be both environmentally unfavorable and not financially viable. At this point, I began seeking out solutions which were more appropriate for the territory,” Davis said.

The search for cleaner energy took Davis to Oman, using innovative German technologies and eventually getting partial funding from the U.S. State Pension Fund, he said. Funding for such projects were key to their viability, he said.

“I established and funded a development company via a joint venture with Concord Blue Energy to pursue a newly issued RFP for an integrated waste management plan for the USVI,” David said, who completed two request-for-proposal processes before the idea was shelved just before the 2017 hurricanes. “While this project and associated entities have been dissolved, I feel that the experience which I gained from this process will be of value to the VIWMA and the people of the Virgin Islands.”

Cost is a major factor in creating a right-sized waste-to-energy program.

“When I pursued that project 10-plus years ago, one of the considerations was really that we have three variables financially that work into that model when you build. One is the electricity rates or your power purchase agreement. Two would be your tipping fees, and three would be your credit rating,” he said. “The power purchase, you’re looking at the highest power prices in the world.”

Both men talked about the difficulty of forming a public-private partnership to create a waste-to-energy program. There were several steps to be completed first, including solving some of the authority’s systemic difficulties.

Williams suggested tipping fees, where people are charged for dumping items at landfills, may inadvertently lead to illegal dumping to avoid such fees.

“There are plenty of people who just back up into the bush and dump,” Williams said.

A better plan might be to charge disposal fees on the front end when items are brought into the territory.

“Then you’re generating a revenue stream of $2 million or $3 million per month or whatever that is to go into a lockbox for use by the authority,” he said.

That money could be used for training employees and educating the public on small steps that could greatly improve how the territory uses its garbage. They called for education of people in the territory about recycling, separating metal and plastic from yard waste, and keeping toxins like batteries and oil out of landfills.

The more diverse the trash, the more difficult it is to be turned into fuel for power plants. Another example is keeping metal and plastic out of yard waste, which could lead to a robust mulch program, they said.

“Most mulch sold in the territory is ground-up untreated pallets,” Davis said. Grinding up limbs and other green waste would reduce the need to burn.

“Thirty years ago we had grinders here. After Hugo the contractor brought in some grinders. Those are things we can do at a very cheap rate,” Williams said.

Another idea would be turning yachts destroyed by storms or other damage into artificial reefs to protect against future hurricane swells. Yet another idea, Vinasse, the nitrogen-rich waste product of rum production, can be mixed with soil and used as fertilizer, Davis said.

Williams urged education, enforcement, and internal studies so the authority has a very clear picture of what was going right and what needed improving.

“You can’t address a problem if you don’t know where you at,” he said.

Davis named what he thought were the largest points of urgency in the territory: the energy crisis, the Government Employee Retirement System, and the Waste Management Authority.

The committee voted to approve Davis’ and Williams’ nominations, moving them on to the full Senate.

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