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Firing Up Hawaiian Biomass Facility

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- by Chris D’Angelo, February 11, 2015, The Garden Island

Green Energy Team, LLC’s $90 million biomass-to-energy facility in Koloa is now hot.

“They lit the boiler and have started making steam,” said Kauai Island Utility Cooperative spokesman Jim Kelly, who is handling press inquiries for GET. “For the next probably three to four weeks, they’re going to basically be pumping steam through it and cleaning out the tubes.”

The company began testing the facility for the first time last week and expects to have it connected to the KIUC grid and producing electricity by April, according to Kelly.

The 6.7-megawatt facility is located near Knudsen Gap and will provide about 11 percent of the island’s electricity — enough to power 8,500 households and replace about 3.7 million gallons of imported oil annually. It is the first closed-loop, biomass-to-energy plant in the United States, and will rely completely on its own sources of Kauai biomass wood chips.

In addition to contracts to clear invasive albizia trees from several locations around the island, GET is in negotiations with the state Department of Land and Natural Resources to purchase up to 15,000 tons of eucalyptus and pine trees that were scorched in Kokee during fires in the summer of 2012. Those trees are being cut down and removed as part of a major reforestation project on 700 acres of forest reserve land.

DLNR Forestry Program Manager Sheri Mann said there are a few items the two parties are still negotiating, but her hope is to finalize the contract while she is on Kauai later this week.

“We’re exploring other markets, but believe me if we can make this work with Green Energy we’re really going to try,” she said.

If a contract is finalized, up to 10 logging trucks per day would travel between the reforestation site and the power plant. Mann said the DLNR is supposed to begin cutting trees next week and hopes to be well underway with the project by the first week of March.

The DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife will hold a public information meeting about the Kokee Area Restoration and Reforestation Project from 6 to 8 tonight at Kekaha Elementary School cafeteria.

Once the dead trees are removed, the area will be reforested with native and non-invasive timber species. The project could cost up to $4 million.

Gilles Lebbe, forestry manager at Green Energy, previously told The Garden Island that the 15,000 tons of wood from Kokee would account for about 17 percent of the plant’s annual needs.

Green Energy Team was founded on Kauai in 2005 to develop a biomass-to-energy project. In addition to about 200 construction jobs, it will create 39 permanent operating jobs and significant work for subcontractors and local service providers.

The company’s quest for trees, however, has come with controversy.

On June of 2013, the Hawaiian Homes Commission rejected a proposal by GET to lease 2,143 acres in Anahola that belongs to native Hawaiians under the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act of 1920. Had it been approved, the 20-year lease would have allowed Green Energy to clear existing albizia trees from the land and establish a eucalyptus tree plantation to fuel its $90 million biomass-to-energy facility near Koloa. The Anahola community stood firmly against the plan, claiming they had been kept in the dark and that Hawaiian lands should not be leased to non-Hawaiians.