Green Energy Team’s albezia chipping irks locals

  • Jessica Else / The Garden Island

    Brad Weigle and Holly Van Every are concerned about noise generated by Green Energy Team’s harvesting of albezia trees in the Omao area.

OMAO — A low rumbling echoes through stands of banana trees and heliconia that surround Holly Van Every’s three acres on Omao’s Upa Road.

The property is home to a couple of lily-laced ponds, surrounded by dozens of native and canoe plants, like breadfruit, as well as species like moringa.

Van Every bought the property as a retreat from her life in the Los Angeles music scene, but the singer and bass guitar player says it hasn’t been the sanctuary she envisioned.

“The noise, it starts up at 7 a.m. and you can hear the whine,” she said. “With the Green Energy Team clearing albezia, I can’t write music. We’re frustrated.”

The project is feeding Green Energy Team’s biofuel power plant with the slow-burning albezia wood and creating renewable electricity for the island, which is sold to Kauai Island Utility Cooperative.

The albezia stands are located throughout the island. Right now, Green Energy Team’s efforts are focused on the stand in the Omao area, which will be harvested, then replanted.

The process repeats itself every five years, according to Gilles Lebbe, Green Energy Team general manager. Once the albezia trees are wiped out, they’ll be replaced with eucalyptus, he said.

“We mechanically fall invasive albezia trees (and) bring the trees to a landing area where the trees dry for four to six weeks,” Lebbe said. “We then chip the trees and haul the woodchips to the plant.”

Work is scheduled to run from 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, but during the week of Nov. 5 a crane at the plant broke down.

“We had to work during the weekend so the plant could continue operating,” Lebbe said.

Complaints from neighbors have reached Green Energy Team’s ears, Lebbe said, from nearby residents, concerned community leaders and the state Department of Health.

“We responded to these complaints,” Lebbe said.

But, in the midst of those community concerns, Green Energy Team secured a Community Noise Permit on Nov. 13 from DOH, “just in case we would exceed permissible noise levels,” Lebbe said.

The permit is valid until the end of March 2018.

Current activities aren’t violating the state noise ordinance yet — the limit is 70 decibels (dba) or lower at the property line, and Lebbe says noise levels at full operations are at 87.7 dba. The noise levels read 70 dba or lower 600 feet away from the chipper, and lower than 60 dba 1,200 feet away from the chipper.

“On the Omao parcel we don’t plan to chip closer than 1,200 feet from any residence,” Lebbe said. “Although we don’t need a CNP for our activities, the Department of Health requested we apply for a Community Noise Permit just in case.”

But five more months of the constant hum is a maddening proposition for Van Every, as well as her boyfriend Brad Weigle, who also lives in the area.

“It sounds like a truck is constantly going up a hill next to the house,” Weigle said. “At first I thought it was an airplane, but no. It’s the chipper.”

Lebbe said Green Energy Team is “doing all we reasonably can” to limit the noise coming from their activities by performing noisy activities as far as possible from neighbors, using state-of-the-art equipment, and not working at night or on weekends during normal conditions.

Van Every suggested building a chipping center somewhere off the beaten path, but Lebbe said it’s too difficult to transport albezia.

“It’s a branch and brittle tree and doesn’t produce straight logs that can be transported safely and efficiently in log trailers,” Lebbe said. “The only way to transport albezia safely and efficiently is in the form of woodchips.”

While both Van Every and Weigle are in support of renewable energy and the increase of clean power on the island, they question Green Energy Team’s methods, because burning wood does produce emissions.

“I really don’t see it as clean energy,” Weigle said. “You have emissions when you’re burning that, too. I don’t see why we can’t put solar in that spot instead of replanting trees to burn.”

But the sun isn’t always shining, Lebbe pointed out. He said a big advantage to fuel-generated power is that it is reliable.

“KIUC is making great progress in storing intermittent power (solar and hydro), and making this power available when needed, but, in my humble opinion, every renewable grid needs some fuel-generated power to sustainably cover the base load,” Lebbe said.

  1. Jake November 19, 2017 4:14 am Reply

    Lebbe is 100% correct. Germany installed 20,000 wind turbines, and then increased it’s CO2 emissions to compensate for the destabilizing effect of wind power. Do you know how much CO2 is produced just to build a wind turbine or solar cell? Don’t worry about the burning of the trees……It amounts to nothing. Stop complaining.

  2. RKB November 19, 2017 5:43 am Reply

    Give me a break. It’s not forever. Albizia is probably the most invasive plant on this island and they are taking it down at NO COST to taxpayers and turning it into electricity. Sorry you don’t have peace and tranquility on your 3 acre song writing sanctuary. Typical transplant complaint. If you were hear when they used to burn cane right where that work is happening now you would be grateful for with the temporary inconvenience you have to endure right now. Man up princess.

    1. HVE February 19, 2018 8:27 am Reply

      Wow! You might consider taking all of that hateful energy and put it towards an education. Spelling in particular.

  3. Howard Tolbe November 19, 2017 7:25 am Reply

    Ms. Every and Mr. Weigle. Mike Jagger has the perfect song for both of you. “You can’t always get what you want!” If you (Ms. Every) needed a place of quiet. You should have move inland in the mainland up in secluded mountain.

  4. John Erwin November 19, 2017 7:58 am Reply

    The albezia is a fast growing invasive species that needs to be removed. The noise from the chipper would be there even if the wood was not being used as biomass fuel. It is just more efficient to haul chips than it would be to attempt to load them on a log hauling truck. The albezia is curved and unlines pine and fir, does not lend itself to being hauled on log trucks.

    None of us mind being able to turn the lights or TV on at 8pm or 1am and it is the Albezia/biomass burning facility that gets us power when there is no sun or wind.

    We all have to put up with minor irritations be it noise from trucks going by a nearby road or trains (where our other home is) hauling coal to cities east of us where it is used (like Albezia) to produce electricity in heat fired steam generators. No one has given a choice when it comes to them blowing their whistles at all hours of the day and the huge oil fired engines (8 per train) pull 100 coal loaded cars over the Rocky Mountains.

    Close the windows and turn on the AC – it will be much quieter and you can be happy to know the Albezia will power your AC unit during the day time.

  5. manawai November 19, 2017 8:30 am Reply

    I find it interesting at how so many people come here and expect that their vision of a Kauai life to mirror the reality. They don’t figure in that if their home is adjacent to or near agricultural land, that agricultural activities might take place there. So when the perfectly legal activity begins on those adjacent lands, they get a angry because they didn’t do their home work before buying and look to blame someone else for their own failings. So typical of the snow flakes who come here to buy their piece of “paradise”.

  6. Craig Millett November 19, 2017 8:47 am Reply

    Grove Farm, etc. strikes again.

  7. Latearrivelocal November 19, 2017 10:02 am Reply

    Great to see albezia removed so our indigenous have opportunity to recover. Sorry to hear about the noise though

  8. Awapuhi November 19, 2017 3:19 pm Reply

    It won’t last forever and the Albezia needs to be destroyed. And of course this is green energy. it is a plant, after all. Green.

  9. Just Jeff November 20, 2017 7:26 am Reply

    I empathize. May I suggest the new Sony Noise Cancelling Headphones (h.ear on) that just arrived at Costco. Hefty price tag yet functionality and ability to filter out low end environmental noise make it worth it for peace of mind and getting on with your writing and life in general. Smooth sailing. Peace be with us.

  10. Christina Gaines November 20, 2017 8:22 am Reply

    This is an unfortunate circumstance where homes built in AG areas experience the Agricultural use of neighboring properties. Take heart in knowing that Eucalyptus trees can be ‘logged’ and transported to a designated chipping area. This noise may last longer than you wish, but it will end. Good bye Albesia!

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