Saturday, February 21, 2015

On Burning Wood Pellets for Electricity, It's U.S. Environmentalists vs. European Generators

Cooling towers belch steam at the Drax power plant in North Yorkshire, England. It is at the center of the debate over whether burning wood pellets reduces harmful greenhouse gas emissions. (Credit: Jason Hawkes, courtesy of Flickr)  Click to Enlarge.
An increasing number of ships are crossing the Atlantic Ocean bearing millions of tons of fuel, all bound for some of Europe's largest coal-fired power stations.  They're not carrying coal, though, but wood pellets, sourced from forests in the U.S. Southeast.

A large volume of pellets are burned in North Yorkshire, in two recently converted units at the Drax Power Station, which supplies 7 to 8 percent of the United Kingdom's electricity.  According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, wood pellet exports from the United States nearly doubled from 2012 to 2013, largely driven by European demand.

In light of this trend, there have also been an increasing number of flights across the Atlantic carrying U.S. environmentalists and Drax employees, all headed to meetings with environmental regulators in both nations.

On Jan. 30, representatives with Drax met with U.S. EPA staff, the agency confirmed Wednesday, to present information on the company's growing biomass use.  Then, on Feb. 5, U.K. Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Edward Davey agreed to meet with the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Dogwood Alliance, two American environmental groups that oppose wood energy.

The meetings centered on this question:  Is the United Kingdom's biggest, most carbon-emitting coal station's switch to wood energy a good thing or a bad thing for America's forests and the climate?
Matt Willey, corporate communications manager for Drax, argues the company's investment in biomass is also essential if the company is to curb its greenhouse gas emissions.

"Reducing our dependence on coal is essential to tackling climate change," Willey said in an email.  "If biomass is sourced sustainably, there is a fundamental difference between biogenic carbon and geologic carbon because sustainably sourced biomass is part of a continuing cycle and not adding new carbon to that cycle."

A number of American green groups oppose this position, and they're making sure U.K. regulators hear their side of the story.

During the Feb. 5 meeting with U.K. Energy Secretary Davey, Adam Macon, campaign director for the Asheville, N.C.-based Dogwood Alliance, said he and other environmentalists described "the devastation that export of wood pellets for fuel is having on forests, the climate and the communities in the southern U.S."

Macon and his colleagues told Davey that Drax and other big biomass companies are responsible for more frequent clearcutting and the conversion of natural forests into plantations in the U.S. Southeast.

Read more at On Burning Wood Pellets for Electricity, It's U.S. Environmentalists vs. European Generators

No comments:

Post a Comment