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Debbie Hammel’s Blog

New campaign tells biomass energy companies: Our Forests Aren't Fuel!

Debbie Hammel

Posted May 1, 2013 in Saving Wildlife and Wild Places, Solving Global Warming

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Energy companies are cutting down our forests so they can be burned for energy in large-scale power plants—a practice that is widespread and growing at an alarming rate. In the southeastern United States, the massive fuel needs of these energy companies could double logging rates and increase carbon emissions significantly, contributing to climate change at a time when we need to be rapidly cutting our carbon pollution.

Sound outrageous?  That’s because it is. 

But now there’s something you can do about it. Today, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Dogwood Alliance, and other concerned organizations are putting these companies on notice with a clear and simple message: Our Forests Aren’t Fuel. And we want you to join us.

Click here to take action

The destructive cutting of whole trees for energy is being driven by soaring European demand for organic matter as fuel for energy production—known as “biomass”. What we’re witnessing is the growth of an industry in which wood pellet manufacturers harvest trees from our Southern forests, grind the trees into wood chips and pellets, and then ship them across an ocean to ports in Western Europe to be burned in European power plants. 

And this demand is in addition to the local demand from domestic utilities. Several of the largest U.S. utilities, are now getting into the act and turning to forest biomass as fuel for their power plants, further threatening Southern forests and the planet. Recent analyses indicate there are twenty-four pellet facilities currently operating in the Southeast, and sixteen additional plants planned for construction in the near-term. [For more on the trans-Atlantic biomass industry, see today's front page story in the Wall Street Journal.]

Three of the biggest players in this destructive industry are:

  • Drax Group, which owns power plants in Europe and has the fastest growing demand for wood;
  • Dominion Resources, a Virginia-based electric utility; and
  • Enviva, a wood pellet manufacturer in the Southeast that supplies both Drax and Dominion.

Together, we are calling for an immediate moratorium on the use of whole trees in pellet manufacturing and utility-scale biomass projects, including co-firing in existing power plants, until companies adopt long-term policies that verify that their  projects:

  • Will reduce near-term carbon emissions compared to fossil fuels;
  • Will not adversely impact forests, carbon sinks, soil, wildlife habitat, biodiversity and water resources; and
  • Will not result in net increases to local air pollution.

You can take action to defend our Southern forests by telling Dominion, Drax, and their supplier, Enviva, that burning our forests for energy is dirty and destructive, and by spreading the word to your networks. Our forests aren’t fuel!

Healthy forests are critical to the health of our communities and planet. By preserving our forests, we protect biodiversity, ensure breathable air, drinkable water, and defend against floods and climate change. Forests also support the livelihood of many communities through recreation, tourism and sustainable industry.

Burning biomass has been widely promoted as a form of renewable energy alongside technologies like solar, wind, and geothermal. But advances in science have shown that burning whole trees for energy is anything by clean. What’s more, cutting down trees to burn for energy destroys one of our best resources for fighting climate change. [Check out our video animation for more on the risks of burning trees for energy.]

Nonetheless, while several large utilities and energy corporations have plans to expand their use of wood as a fuel source, no company – utility or pellet manufacturer – has announced a long-term corporate policy to reject whole trees in their biomass operations.

As demand for woody biomass and pellets increase, the industry will out-strip the availability of waste organic materials, such as manufacturing residues, urban waste and logging residues, such as limbs and tree tops, and increasingly look to whole trees as a fuel source. Last year alone wood pellets from Southern ports increased 70%, making the Southeast the largest exporter of wood pellets in the world. This growth is expected to continue with numerous plans for building additional manufacturing and export facilities, particularly in the South.

We know that burning whole trees for energy is a dirty process that destroys our forests. We need our utility companies to invest in expanding energy efficiency and the modern, renewable and truly low-carbon energy sources we need, such as solar, wind, and geothermal, not destructive whole-tree bionenergy.

Tell these companies that our forests are NOT fuel!

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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