Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Dutch Lawmakers Call for Halt to Wood Energy Subsidies

The Netherlands’ plans to rely on wood energy to produce electricity have been thrown into turmoil, with lawmakers fearing the program will waste money, hurt the environment and prolong the lives of polluting coal power plants.

A power plant in the Netherlands. (Credit: Marcel Oosterwijk/Flickr) Click to Enlarge.
The burning of wood to produce electricity has been expanding across Europe, where it is heavily subsidized by national governments because it counts as renewable energy.  Such energy can be environmentally friendly at local scales, but used on large industrial levels it can accelerate global warming, worsen deforestation, and push up wood and paper costs.

Most wood burned in European power plants comes from the pine plantations and natural hardwood forests of the southern U.S.  More than 8 million tons of American trees and waste wood was turned into more than 4 million tons of wood pellets exported to Europe in 2014.

Dutch parliamentarians voted last week to suspend plans to provide subsidies for wood energy until the country’s economic affairs ministry has explained how and when all of the nation’s coal power plants will be shuttered.

Billions of dollars in Dutch government subsidies have been earmarked to help the owners of coal power plants blend wood pellets in with their coal fuel, reducing on-paper climate impacts through a practice known as biomass co-firing.  Most biomass fuel is made from wood, although crops and agricultural waste can also be used.

A Climate Central analysis has shown that burning wood pellets for electricity can release 15 to 20 percent more carbon dioxide pollution than burning coal.  Yet a loophole in European climate-protection rules allow nations and power plant owners to avoid counting any of the climate pollution released when wood burns.

Compared with its European neighbors, the Netherlands is a laggard on renewable energy. Wood energy is seen as a way of quickly boosting the share of renewables in Holland’s electricity mix from less than 6 percent in 2014 to the 14 percent mandated by the European Union by 2020.

A growing chorus of Dutch politicians, environmentalists and others is arguing that the best way to comply with European climate laws and a recent climate lawsuit ruling, however, is to shut down the coal plants entirely.

Read more at Dutch Lawmakers Call for Halt to Wood Energy Subsidies

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