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Another Green Solution Goes Up In Flames

How screwy is European green policy? Policymakers are holding up wood as an energy source of the future. Sure, it’s renewable, but its green pedigree is very much in doubt. Nowhere is that more evident than in the UK, where government subsidies have encouraged companies to buy wood pellets from foresters in America and burn, baby, burn. Matt Wridley writes in an op-ed for the London Times:

A year ago I wrote in these pages that it made no sense for the consumer to subsidise the burning of American wood in place of coal, since wood produces more carbon dioxide for each kilowatt-hour of electricity. The forests being harvested would take four to ten decades to regrow, and this is the precise period over which we are supposed to expect dangerous global warming to emerge. It makes no sense to steal beetles’ lunch, transport it halfway round the world, burning diesel as you do so, and charge hard-pressed consumers double the price for the power it generates.

There was a howl of protest on the letters page from the chief executive of Drax power station, which burns a million tonnes of imported North American wood a year and plans to increase that to 7 million tonnes by 2016. But last week, [chief scientist at the Department of Energy and Climate Change Dr David MacKay’s] report vindicated me. If the wood comes from whole trees, as much of it does, then the effect could be to increase carbon dioxide emissions, he finds, even compared with coal. And that’s allowing for the regrowth of forests.

In fact, biomass is “green” only insofar as it includes the prefix “bio.” In a perfect system, if you replanted one tree for every one you burned, you would come out carbon-neutral in the long run. But consider: it takes energy and effort to chop down these trees, process them into the pellets most biomass facilities require, and transport them to their final destination. (And in the case of the UK, that includes a trans-Atlantic boat ride.) All of those steps produce emissions. Moreover, some 90 percent of the forests in the southeastern United States that source British biomass are privately owned, and lax regulatory oversight means there is no guarantee that felled trees are replaced in some sustainable manner.

Biomass has been held up as an earth-friendly solution in the UK, but closer scrutiny lays bare this wishful claim. 10 Downing take note: Burning wood for energy may have seemed like a breakthrough at some point in our history, but we’re long past it now.

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  • Rick Johnson

    This is more proof that the Greens are not interested in the environment but are in fact anti-industrial revolution. The industrial revolution grew off the back of substituting wood for coal. Pre-industrial revolution, England was being de-nuded of trees. Coal is a cheaper means of obtaining energy and, once its use become widespread, it saved the trees of England. Now the Greens want to destroy the forests of America to take us back to the bad old days.

  • Marvel Goose

    I live in Southeast Georgia: where there are more pine trees than people and several of these wood pellet factories. Replacement trees get planted rather quickly due to the property tax treatment of Tree Farms. If you have a tree farm planted, you get to defer the bulk of your property taxes until the year that you harvest. Leave your Tree Farm fallow and it gets taxed at the regular rate of farmland. Forestry was on the decline here until the pellet factories started backup. Thank you EU and UK for sending your money here.

    • LarryD

      ” Moreover, some 90 percent of the forests in the southeastern United States that source British
      biomass are privately owned, and lax regulatory oversight means there is no guarantee that felled trees are replaced in some sustainable manner.”

      World-wide experience is private owners manage forests better than government or other commons. But replacing locally-sourced coal with foreign wood pellets is still a stupid idea.

  • Sally Dungan

    oops — Matt Ridley

  • Fat_Man

    “Matt Wridley”

    No. Matt Ridley

  • Duperray

    This foolish green idea (burning their own wild trees) has been much developed in northern Germany. After few years, disaster is so big that even governmental greens are hurt, opend their eyes and for few months, in a concealed manner, are stopping this developement !
    For once Greens recognize an error !….
    Much land coverest with forest have been destroyed and this paper arguments are fully demonstrated right.
    So, when british further add up an ocean transportation to this, the joke become unbearable.
    One can rise following question: How come, with all expertize, technical knowledge, computer simulations, expert accounting, private investor analysts, banks, such ridiculous industrial solutions could be approved through many administrative steps in a very modern advanced country?
    Back two centuries ago, when steam locomotives were appearing, such a stupid behaviour would have developped locomotives with square wheels……
    One explanation attempt: The whole considered decision string is fitted with technically ignare, uncompetent persons od following style “if you don’t know, go find it on Internet”?

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