It will be six more months before the Navy's new steam plant will be able to operate solely on fuel derived from garbage, a published report said yesterday.

"It wasn't unexpected," John Peters, a spokesman for the Atlantic Division Naval Facilities Engineering Command, told The Virginian-Pilot and The Ledger-Star in Norfolk. "They knew they would need more time to get testing done."

Navy and area officials had hoped to stop using coal this summer in the $100 million plant, which has provided electricity and steam for the Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth since April.

The Navy hopes to be ready for full operation by January, the date originally targeted by the Southeastern Public Services Authority, the newspaper said. The authority is providing the garbage-derived fuel for the Navy.

The steam plant and the garbage processing plant are part of a regional garbage disposal system that over the next 30 years could save local governments $600 million in energy and waste disposal costs, officials say.

Rather than bury garbage in landfills, localities could give their garbage to the services authority, which converts it into fuel by sifting and shredding. The Navy buys the fuel and burns it to power its steam plant.