wot’s not to like about albizia? much ado on Kauai

albizia molluca growing on kauai

Ah shucks: Here comes another community controversy that revolves around sloppy thinking and misuse of scientific findings.

I'm talking about the brouhaha over Bill Cowern's plan to grow albizia trees for one of Kauai's planned biomass generators.

Now the County Planning Dept. is recommending against using the albizia tree for feedstock as a condition of granting a permit to the biomass facility (via the garden island).

That would be like granting a permit for a new car dealership only if they sell electric vehicles (not!)...Which might be a good thang. Yet, where would Planning get the expertise (or authority) to make such a determination?

Now, we notice that Planning had the opportunity to object to albizia during the environmental assessment for Cowern's biomass energy facility, recently completed by EarthTech...and didn't.

According to the leaked new report from Planning, written by Deputy Planning Director Imai Aiu, "albizia is an invasive species that has presented problems to native forests and the continued cultivation of this tree presents the possibility of it spreading to other areas”...which is true as far as it goes.

As Cowern quips, "albizia exists all over the island, so it is unable to spread anywhere."

Just like eucalyptus, another invasive with which it is often grown, albizia has become more like a "naturalized occupant", notes Cowern.

Back in September, Aiu wrote Planning's response to the EA and listed 10 concerns...not including the albizia thang.

One wonders what he learned in the ensuing 4 months that led to this new condition on approval.

Mebbe he read the Honolulu Weekly piece by good buddy Joan Conrow, which cited both Keren Gundersen, project manager of the Kaua‘i Invasive Species Committee, and Trae Menard, director of The Nature Conservancy’s Kaua‘i lands, as opposed to further cultivation of this particular invasive.

Yet, both Gunderson and Menard acknowledged that albizia cannot now be eradicated from our island.

So, let's follow this logic: our island is overrun with invasives about which we can do very little, so we need to prevent a green energy facility from using this local feedstock because it's invasive. Yup, that would fail the smell test.

Meanwhile, some of us (who see the green energy challenge trumping other concerns) are impressed by a coupla aspects of Cowern's albizia plan. For one thang, creating a market for this feedstock will provide incentives for logging this tree...which should actually decrease the extent of its invasion.

For another, albizia dramatically increases the carbon sequestration provided by a particular patch of forest.

According to Jason Kaye and his colleagues from Colorado State University, who recently researched carbon storage on a former sugar cane farm which had been turned into a plantation for Eucalyptus trees in Hawaii, "the acres which were interplanted with albizia trees were able to sequester twice the carbon versus areas where eucalyptus trees were planted alone" (here's their report).

Didn't know that? Yup, Cowern has done his homework on this tree.

Oh, and, I've been impressed to learn how Cowern's biomass facility is gonna reuse every kg of that sequestered carbon in its closed loop design.

So, is it fair to use the 'invasive' hot button to block Cowern's green energy initiative?

(Added) Turns out, Planning may back off their condition. Film @ 11 on that one...

Meanwhile, Apollo Kauai will discuss this energy project at its meeting tonite.

Published by Ken on January 10th, 2008 tagged Island Ecosystems, Systems Thinking

One Response to “wot’s not to like about albizia? much ado on Kauai”

  1. Ken Says:

    Sure enough! County Planning is backing off: