A group of scientists have written to Britain’s Energy Secretary Ed Davey to protest American forests being cut down and pulped to provide biomass for UK power plants.
Under the government’s biomass scheme, power stations are asked to stop using fossil fuels, which are considered too ‘dirty’, and are instead subsidised to purchase wooden pellets from America, despite the fact this involves cutting down forests and then shipping the pellets 3,800 miles.
In the letter, posted on the blog site ‘Not a Lot of People Know That‘, the scientists claim that this is anything but carbon neutral, as the US forests act as a “carbon sink” and burning wood actually releases more carbon dioxide than burning fossil fuels, not to mention the impact of shipping the pellets across the Atlantic.
“Mounting demand for wood pellets in the UK and Europe has led to an explosive growth in facilities across the southern US that are manufacturing wood pellets for export to supply the European electricity market,” the scientists say.
“Demand for wood pellets is fuelled by misguided energy policies, which incorrectly assume that burning wood will lower carbon emissions and help address climate change.”
They say that this view is misguided, firstly because:
“… burning trees to produce electricity actually increases carbon emissions compared with fossil fuels for many decades and contributes to other air pollution problems.”
“…nearly 90 percent of southeastern US forests are privately owned and, unlike most of Europe, there are no laws or regulations in this region that require these private landowners to regrow or sustainably manage their forests to maintain vital carbon sinks.”
As well as acting as a “net carbon sink” (taking in more carbon dioxide than they release), the forests that are being cut down also have various other benefits:
“…the slow-growing bottomland hardwood forests along the US Atlantic Coastal Plain and Gulf Coast buffer natural and human communities from storms and floods, maintain water quality of rivers and estuaries, and provide critical habitat for birds, fish and other wildlife.”
They conclude by calling on Ed Davey to urgently change the UK’s biomass policy:
“As scientists and concerned citizens, we thus urge you to reconsider the policies that are driving this demand for wood pellets as a fuel source for generating electricity in Europe. We urge you to take prompt action to remedy the adverse climate and biodiversity impacts of the current misguided policy.”
A recent article in by David Rose the Daily Mail names Drax power station in Yorkshire as one of the worst offenders. The station buys more than a million metric tonnes of pellets from the US each year, and produces more than three percent more carbon dioxide than coal, and more than twice as much as natural gas produces. Adding in the carbon footprint of transporting the pellets over from America, that amounts to more than 20 percent more carbon emissions than standard coal.
Also, as the energy produced by Drax is subsidised to the tune of £105 per Megawatt Hour (MW/hr), and the wholesale energy price is just £50 per MW/hr, this means that the project can only survive through government subsidies.
Rose describes this policy as the “bonfire of insanity”.
The UK is currently committed by law to increase the proportion of energy generated by “renewable” energy sources to 30 percent by 2020, with more than a third of this supplied by biomass fuel.
Despite the scientists’ letter, the policy remains unchanged, with the EU still declaring biomass to be “carbon neutral” despite abundant evidence to the contrary.