Wood Instead of Coal – Political Greenwashing

I know I post a lot of these stories about burning wood instead of coal. I do it because it is one of the greatest hypocrisies in the fight against global warming climate change catastrophe.

It’s the rave in Europe: Instead of burning coal and fossil fuels to generate heat and electricity, wood chips and pellets are being fed into Europe’s boilers. In what critics consider a dangerous sleight-of-hand and act of political greenwashing, an updated set of European Union rules encourage the burning of wood in power plants and claim it’s “carbon neutral” — meaning it won’t add to the planet’s warming — under the assumption that trees grow back.

This strategy plays a big part in the EU’s plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The rules allow European governments to subsidize power plants to convert from burning coal and fossil fuels to burning wood. Across Europe, governments are under pressure to close coal-fired plants.

So-called “biomass energy” is also becoming more popular in Japan and Korea, and some in the United States are pushing for greater reliance on wood-burning.

But many scientists and environmentalists say this is backward thinking that will accelerate the disastrous felling of forests and loss of biodiversity.

Power plants in Europe are increasing the burning of wood pellets from the United States, Canada and Eastern Europe. Environmentalists warn that old forests in those places are being chopped up and left to regrow, or in some cases replaced by forest plantations.

But it’s not only the loss of old forests that worries scientists. Studies have shown that wood-burning power plants emit more carbon dioxide per megawatt hour of electricity produced than plants burning fossil fuels.

Even taking forest regrowth into account, scientists warn that over decades and centuries burning wood adds more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere than producing energy the old-fashioned way by burning coal and fossil fuels does.

Full story here

Burning Trees Is a Multi-Billion £ Industry

Burning trees produces more CO2 than coal. So if you are in the UK and your energy bill makes you want to cry, just remember it’s green!

A surcharge on UK energy bills is funding subsidies for biomass electricity generation that is making climate change worse, polluting communities, destroying forests and harming wildlife.

In 2017, the UK Government granted around £1 billion in renewable subsidies to power stations – including Drax Power Station in Yorkshire – to burn millions of tonnes of wood for electricity.

Drax alone received £729 million – around £2 million per day – in subsidies to burn wood pellets and is now the world’s largest biomass burner.

Biodiversity hotspots

Despite claims by the biomass industry that they mostly burn “low-grade wood residues”, US conservation NGOs have proven that a significant proportion of wood pellets for Drax and other UK power stations comes from the clearcutting of whole trees from wetland forests in the Southern US.

These forests are at the heart of a biodiversity hotspot and are home to many endangered species, including salamanders, the Louisiana black bear and the Venus flytrap.

Meanwhile, new subsidies for onshore wind and solar power have been scrapped while the government is only planning to allocate £60m for the next round of renewable energy funding in May.

However, with a fixed amount of government money available for renewable energy under the Levy Control Framework, ending the generous biomass subsidies would automatically release around £800m for genuinely low-carbon wind, wave and solar power.

This would make a huge difference in reducing both our air pollution and our greenhouse gas emissions.

Sustainable?

Why are biomass power plants receiving these huge renewable subsidies for burning wood?

Governments and the biomass industry argue that converting old coal power plants to burn wood is ‘green energy’ which can help reduce our carbon emissions.

This argument is based on the mistaken belief that burning wood is ‘carbon neutral’ because there is an assumption that new trees will absorb the carbon emissions produced by the burning.

This has allowed the biomass industry to present itself as a ‘low carbon’ and ‘sustainable’ alternative to fossil fuels, with the Minister of State for Climate Change and Industry describing biomass as “a cost-effective and transitional means of decarbonising the electricity grid”.

Drax’s Chief Executive, Will Gardiner, claimed that the power station is: “the biggest decarbonisation project in Europe” and a “key part of the climate change solution.”

Green deserts 

However, the truth is that there is nothing renewable or sustainable about biomass burning. By contrast, biomass comes at an enormous cost for communities, wildlife, forests and the climate.

Read it all here.

Europe’s Renewable Energy Policy is Built on Burning American Trees

More CO2 thanks to the EU. As the EU says: CO2 bad … unless we say otherwise.

in 2009, the EU committed itself to 20 percent renewable energy by 2020, and put biomass on the renewables list. Several countries, like the United Kingdom, subsidized the biomass industry, creating a sudden market for wood not good enough for the timber industry. In the United States, Canada, and Eastern Europe, crooked trees, bark, treetops, and sawdust have been pulped, pressed into pellets, and heat-dried in kilns. By 2014, biomass accounted for 40 percent of the EU’s renewable energy, by far the largest source. By 2020, it’s projected to make up 60 percent, and the US plans to follow suit.

Fueling this boom is a simple, intuitive idea: that biomass is both renewable and “carbon neutral,” and a way to keep an economy built on burning fossil fuels humming along.

But a cadre of scientists and policy activists are now pushing back, saying that biomass energy rests on deceptive accounting. Rather than being carbon neutral, biomass is liquidating millions of tons of irreplaceable carbon stocks in the midst of a climate crisis already out of control.

Image by Javier Zarracina/Vox. 2019.

If you believe CO2 is bad and more CO2 is worse:

The analysis was later confirmed by a colleague at MIT, John Sterman, who did the math, and confirmed that burning wood today would worsen climate change, “at least through the year 2100 — even if wood displaces coal, the most carbon-intensive fuel.”

More here

 

Burning wood for power ‘breaches EU treaty’

It ain’t easy being green.

Campaigners are seeking to stop the EU counting wood as a renewable energy source, in a lawsuit which has been filed at the Court of Justice.

Plaintiffs from six European countries and the US argue that burning biomass for heat and power is a false solution to climate change. The EU Renewable Energy Directive promotes logging of ancient forests, according to the brief, contravening the bloc’s higher principles and individuals’ rights.

The suit challenges a major plank of efforts to generate 32 percent of EU energy from renewable sources by 2030. Nearly two thirds of EU renewables come from various forms of bioenergy, with more projects in planning.

Carbon sinks

We are burning up our forest carbon sink and injecting it into the atmosphere,” said Mary Booth, lead science advisor to the case and president of the US-based Partnership for Policy Integrity.

“There is forest biomass being shipped thousands of miles to meet biomass demand in the EU. We think that needs to stop.”

At the point where it is burned, wood emits more carbon dioxide than coal. However, the EU treats wood burning as carbon neutral, on the basis trees will grow back, absorbing carbon dioxide from the air.

A spokesperson for the European Commission climate change division would not comment on the legal merits of the case.

The commission’s policy framework aimed to guarantee “sustainable development of bioenergy, while at the same time enhancing the role of land and forests as carbon sinks,” she said.

Renewables

That was endorsed by member states and the European Parliament when they adopted the directive last year.

Carbon accounting of forest management has long been fraught with controversy, as scientists like Booth warn it does not reflect the true climate impact. Instead of being harvested, she said in a press call, trees should be allowed to mature and store carbon.

The plaintiffs will also raise concerns about damage to biodiversity, cultural heritage and human health in their regions. These range from the deterioration of peat bogs in Ireland to threats to Estonia’s pagan religious traditions.

From a legal perspective, counsel Peter Lockley explained, the case needed to demonstrate the renewables directive clashes with higher law –  enshrined in the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union – in a way that directly concerned individuals.

UK: Maybe Some Sanity on the Wood Pellet Issue?

1,000,000,000£ subsidy for burning wood pellets might be scrapped?

Controversial subsidies for burning wood in power stations could be scrapped in the drive to clean up Britain’s air.

Firms that burn wood pellets currently receive about £1billion a year because, unlike coal, these are considered renewable sources of energy.

But critics say burning wood produces similar amounts of carbon dioxide to coal, contributing to air pollution.

It also increases the logging of forests in the US, while shipping them to Britain in vast quantities has a further negative effect on the environment.

Environment Secretary Michael Gove yesterday revealed subsidies for burning wood could be scrapped as he unveiled the Government’s clean air strategy.

The U-turn comes after years of state support for ‘biomass’ such as wood pellets, in schemes pioneered by disgraced former Liberal Democrat energy secretary Chris Huhne. 

He was hired by US firm Zilkha Biomass, which makes wood pellets, after serving a prison sentence in 2013 for perverting the course of justice.

The clean air strategy includes proposals to scrap some subsidies paid under so-called ‘contracts for difference’.

The contracts, which last until 2027, offer payments of about £100 per megawatt hour for burning imported wood – more than double the wholesale energy price.

Britain’s biggest power station, Drax, near Selby, North Yorkshire, burns about 7million tons a year of compressed wood pellets imported from the US and Canada.

Does replacing coal with wood lower CO2 emissions? Nope.

Burning wood makes more CO2 than coal.

The conclusions high points:

  • biomass used to displace fossil fuels injects CO2 into the atmosphere at the point of combustion and during harvest, processing and transport.
  • the first impact of displacing coal with wood is an increase in atmospheric CO2relative to continued coal use
  •  before breakeven, atmospheric CO2 is higher than it would have been without the use of bioenergy, increasing radiative forcing and global average temperatures, worsening climate change, including potentially irreversible impacts that may arise before the long-run benefits are realized.
  • biofuels are only beneficial in the long run if the harvested land is allowed to regrow to its pre-harvest biomass and maintained there.
  • The carbon debt incurred when wood displaces coal may never be repaid if development, unplanned logging, erosion or increases in extreme temperatures, fire, and disease (all worsened by global warming) limit regrowth or accelerate the flux of carbon from soils to the atmosphere.
  • harvesting existing forests and replanting with fast-growing species in managed plantations can worsen the climate impact of wood biofuel.
  • growth in wood harvest for bioenergy causes a steady increase in atmospheric CO2 because the initial carbon debt incurred each year exceeds what is repaid.
  • using wood in electricity generation worsens climate change for decades or more even though many of our assumptions favor wood

Image result for wood pellets

 

I’m Pretty Sure Wood Has Carbon In It

From a DRAX news release

The findings were revealed in analysis from Oxford Economics looking at the economic impact of Drax’s UK operations, which includes Selby-based Drax Power Station.

The power station, which employs around 900 people, has converted four of its six generating units to use compressed wood pellets and generated 15% of the country’s renewable electricity in 2017 – enough for four million households. Since transforming the power station to use biomass instead of coal it has become the largest decarbonisation project in Europe.

If you are burning wood instead of coal, you aren’t decarbonising.