The European Union is considering changes to its climate policies that could have a major impact on Georgia’s trees and business.
The EU has been using wood pellets made from trees in the south-east to burn electricity and claims that this practice is carbon neutral. Now, you can change that position.
David Boraks, the WFAE climate reporter in Charlotte, has been reporting on the wood pellet industry. He spoke to WABE about what this possible policy change might mean.
“The US is the largest supplier of wood pellets in Europe and the industry is growing rapidly, mainly here in the South East,” says Boraks. “U.S. wood pellet exports have increased more than 60 percent since 2016, with sales of just over $ 1 billion a year.”
It’s a big business in Georgia, home to the world’s largest wood pellet factory, located in Waycross. According to the State Forestry Commission, in 2019 Georgia exported about $ 260 million worth of wood pellets.
“Enviva, the owner of the Waycross plant, is the largest U.S. exporter. It is building more plants and says it wants to double sales over the next five years,” says Boraks.
Wood pellets are made from trees and parts of trees that remain after felling. The wood is crushed and compressed into small pellets that can then be burned instead of coal, he says.
Boraks explains that the wood pellet industry has grown in the south for a number of reasons: most of the forests here are privately owned and allow logging, unlike in Europe; Southern states subsidize the construction of wood pellet plants to support employment growth in rural areas; and Europe classifies the burning of wood pellets as carbon neutral, and governments there pay electricity companies to use pellets instead of coal.
“Trees are certainly renewable, but it can take decades for the forests that are lost with these operations to grow back,” he says.
However, he says wood pellets are not, in fact, carbon neutral.
“Burning wood pellets emits more carbon than coal,” he says. “And climate researchers say we should also include carbon emissions from the entire wood pellet supply chain: in the collection, transport of wood pellets to and from ports and shipment to Europe. in ships burning diesel “.
Locally, he adds, wood pellet plants are often found in communities of color and in lower-income communities. “Plants create jobs, but they also bring dust, noise and truck traffic. So neighborhood leaders and activists have backed down, ”he says.
The European Parliament is now reconsidering its rules on wood pellets. “After years of criticism and pressure from environmentalists on both sides of the Atlantic,” says Boraks. “The environment committee approved new limits for the use of timber harvested from primary forests this month.”
The change will go to another committee and “could be voted on in the full European Parliament in September,” he says.
The wood pellet industry is struggling, says Boraks.
The U.S. Wood Pellet Association said in a statement that wood pellets are needed “to protect Europe’s energy security and meet ambitious climate goals.”
Enviva declined to comment.
“Industry critics are hopeful but cautious,” he says. “Meanwhile, Britain, which is the largest user of wood pellets, is no longer a member of the EU. So there is a parallel effort to limit wood pellets. We could hear something at the end of the year. “.