KOLOA — Eric Knutzen of Green Energy Hawaii joined a crew from Green Energy Hawaii, along with Hawaii Gov. David Ige and more than a hundred others on Tuesday to dedicate and bless one of the first eco-friendly plant of its kind in the United States.
Hailed as the first biomass-based, integrated, sustainable, renewable-energy plantation in the world, the biomass-to-electricity and ethanol plant was dedicated near Koloa.
“It’s ready,” Knutzen said. “It’s been about 12 years since we first talked about this. It’s been a long road, but it’s operating, now — producing on an average of 12.4 percent of Kauai’s energy needs being provided through Kauai Island Utility Cooperative.”
Knutzen said the 7.5 megawatt plant produces about twice the amount being generated by the Anahola solar farm.
“They only operate half the time, when the sun is shining,” Knutzen said. “This plant runs all the time. Right now, we have been averaging an output of 12 percent without any problems for the past several weeks. But we haven’t pushed it. I would like to think that we could get another 7 percent.”
Jim Kelly of KIUC said the biomass plant is putting out enough electricity to power 8,500 homes on Kauai and replace 3.7 million gallons of oil annually.
“This plant is sustainable, renewable, and independent of local and foreign oil supply,” Kelly said. “The primary benefit of this facility is that it provides firm, dispatch-ready power which means it can be powered up, or down depending on need. It is also ‘black start’ capable which means the plant can be restarted without outside power — something that is vital during hurricanes and other disaster situations.”
KIUC buys power from Green Energy under a 20-year contract approved by the Public Utilities Commission in 2011. It does not own the plant.
“I’m excited to be here,” said Gov. Ige. “The state has made a name for itself because of its 100 percent commitment to green energy.”
He said there is no other facility in the country of this type.
“In addition to producing energy, we have found a use for albizia, described as an invasive species, the scourge of the islands during the last Hurricane Estelle,” Ige said. “Kauai is at 90 percent of producing its own energy when the sun is shining. I know this is happening — right here on Kauai.”
The plant also produces jobs.
“Collectively, we send $4 to $5 billion offshore to buy fuel,” Ige said. “During the construction of this plant, there were more than 200 construction jobs. The plant uses 40 people to operate it. All of this is money staying in the local economy.”
Chris Kanazawa, state director for the USDA Rural Development, said they provided a $72.8 million loan guarantee on the $92.7 million cost of building the plant.
“This project really supports President Barack Obama and the government’s energy initiatives,” he said. “From an island standpoint, we should not be deterred just because of our size.”
The plant is owned by local, German and Belgian investors.
Knutzen said material for the plant, eucalyptus and albizia, is being harvested from 9,600 acres of land, including 3,600 acres of plantation land.
“The material is chipped in-field and brought here where it is burned at 1,700 degrees,” Knutzen said. “The results in clean burning compared with the Port Allen plant.”
Kelly said in the unique closed-loop system of the plant, even the wood ash is recycled as fertilizer for the trees which will be grown as fuel. The plant is also carbon neutral, meaning that any carbon released during the burning is absorbed by the trees.
Knutzen said harvesting and growing fuel is just the first phase of land use for the plant.
“At the end of 20 years, the stumps will be removed and the land becomes agrable and can be used for food production,” he said.
In answering questions from the audience, Knutzen said the plant, for the time being, will not be able to harvest albizia from homes, or smaller land owners because of the need to be efficient.
He also said the plant cannot be fit for solid waste burning to produce energy because of the concern about emissions.