- Associated Press - Thursday, March 5, 2015

KOKEE, Hawaii (AP) - The state has started cutting down trees on 300 acres of Kauai forest reserve that were scorched by wildfire in 2012 and sending the wood to be processed at a new biomass-to-energy plant.

Some 15,000 tons of eucalyptus and pine trees will be removed, The Garden Island (https://bit.ly/1wJVfP0 ) newspaper in Lihue reported Thursday.

Native and non-invasive species will be planted in their place.

The project aims to prevent flooding and erosion and limit damage caused by three blazes that burned about 4,000 acres in the Kokee area.

The state will use the $300,000 to $500,000 it gets from selling the logs to the Green Energy facility to plant trees.

The biomass-to-energy plant is scheduled to be connected to Kauai’s electricity grid next month. It’s expected to supply about 11 percent of the island’s energy needs, the Kauai Island Utility Cooperative said on its website.

Most of the plant’s fuel will come from the Kalepa area by Wailua Falls and Koloa, where the facility is located.

Gilles Lebbe, Green Energy’s biomass supply manager, said the Kokee wood represents about 17 percent of the fuel the plant will need in a year. Lebbe said the company has enough fuel and clearing rights to supply the plant for 20 years.

Plant manager Randolph Singer said Kauai’s climate is perfect for growing trees.

“These trees around us are only about 6 years old,” he said, pointing to towering albizias. “The trees grow extremely fast here . So we can have a short rotation crop.”

Compared to a conventional power plant, the biomass facility releases far less sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide, Singer said. Additionally, the ash - which by weight will be between 1 and 3 percent of the overall tonnage burned - will be recycled as fertilizer for the trees that Green Energy will grow.

State officials said the burned Kokee forest would have remained a hazard if it weren’t for the biomass plant. With nowhere to take the logs, the state would have likely been limited to thinning undergrowth and reducing fuel.

“We wouldn’t have tried to convert it back to native,” said Patrick Porter, Kauai forestry manager for the Division of Forestry and Wildlife. “We would have just managed it as it was before.”

Lisa Hadway, the division’s administrator, agreed. “You really need a local use of the timber to make it feasible,” she said.

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Information from: The Garden Island, https://thegardenisland.com/

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