UK Power Stations are Burning Wood from US Forests–To Meet Renewables Targets

Last year, 6 million tonnes of “wood pellets” harvested from forests in Louisiana, Georgia, Florida, Alabama and Virginia were shipped across the Atlantic, to be burnt in renewable “biomass” power plants. This was almost double the 2013 figure—the US “wood pellet” industry is booming. Demand is largely driven by European countries wanting to meet targets set out in the EU’s Renewable Energy Directive. Half of the pellets exported from the US were used to generate electricity in Britain’s massive Drax power station, which is slowly converting from coal to biomass in order to reduce carbon emissions and claim valuable “Renewable Obligation certificates” for green electricity. So can it really be sustainable to transport wood halfway round the world to burn in a power station? Many environmentalists don’t think so. A consortium of NGOs recently argued that the EU should exclude wood from its renewable energy targets. They claim the industry is felling large areas of hardwood wetland forests across the south-eastern US, causing a loss of biodiversity and a net increase in carbon emissions. Even when the forest regrows it does not store as much carbon in biomass and soils as the original—and it’s certainly not as good for wildlife.

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