More on the purported environmental benefit of cutting down trees

Lynne Kiesling

As a follow-up to my previous post about cutting down trees for biofuels, here’s some interesting news about the unintended consequences and perverse incentives embedded in regulations to promote the use of biomass as fuel: a BBC investigation reveals trees cut from swamp forests in the US being used to fuel electricity generation in Britain.

Critics say subsidising wood burning wastes money, does nothing to tackle climate change in the short term, and is wrecking some of the finest forests in the US.

I have tracked the controversial trade from the swamp forests of North Carolina to the towering chimneys of the UK’s biggest power station, Drax in Yorkshire, which is converting half its boilers from coal to wood.

The implications are complicated and disputed, but it is clear that EU leaders did not have burning American wood in mind when they mandated that 20% of Europe’s energy should come from “renewable” sources.

But that’s what’s happening, induced by billions of pounds worth of subsidies in Britain. 

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4 thoughts on “More on the purported environmental benefit of cutting down trees

  1. Good point. Wood-fired biomass is not competitive with natural gas especially at current prices. Austin’s brand new biomass to electricity plant is idle. It hasn’t generated a single kilowatt, it seems. http://watchdog.org/69542/austin-energy-customers-foot-bill-for-idled-biomass-plant-in-east-texas/ The biomass plant that’s being built for the Gainesville, Fla, area is also being criticized harshly http://www.gainesville.com/article/20130217/ARTICLES/130219656 . The UW here in Madison wanted to convert its Charter Street power plant to biomass. Fortunately, the governor rejected the plan. Imagine, a biomass plant in the middle of Madison. What a mess. Train traffic alone carting all of the wood chips into the middle of town and removing the ash would have been a huge headache. http://dailyreporter.com/2011/01/21/walker-rejects-biomass-boiler-for-power-plant/

  2. An important lesson; green pressure groups lobbying EU politicians results in the imposition of regulations that are not only hideously expensive but don’t even reduce emissions.

  3. Oh, the EU Sustainability Compliant (thanks, +4 Elven Intermodal Courier of Seasoning,) swamp forests will overgrow UW Madison and Drax soon enough… (Also: Despair! Are there sustainable swamp forestry certifications then? Tell me they ship it leaves and all? Saves on dredging and keeping mulch wet in Austin, I suppose? Where will the college students mulch their 1 cu. ft. / y. digital periodical media?)

    What mess was the winning biomass kiln and boiler going to be for the Badgers’ (WI) coal plant? It was coal-in commercial-out (mixed!) before the ash-out part got remade?

  4. Another bit of info on biomass plants in Wisconsin. The plant at Cassville has had problems with exceeding emission limits. One wouldn’t think we’d have air quality problems here in rural Wisconsin but we do. We have a fair number of air quality warnings largely due to fine particulate matter.
    http://host.madison.com/wsj/news/local/cassville-biomass-power-plant-operator-fined-for-pollution-violations/article_3788a18b-199b-57b3-8608-9833f9a7b54b.html
    That’s one of the issues with the Cassville plant and one that concerned opponents of the UW’s Charter St biomass plant, that and traffic problems caused by a substantial increase in the number of train car loads of biomass and ash. If you’ve been to Madison you may recall that traffic in the campus area of the isthmus is that it is already quite congested. More train crossings would increase the congestion problems.

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