The ‘Green Energy’ That Might Be Ruining the Planet

This means that Enviva is not only cleaning up the fringes of the timber industry, it is also increasing the demand for wood in the south. And that means additional trees would have to be cut down to supply the paper mills that are losing trees to Enviva. The increased demand for pulp requires an increased supply of pulp. Even if new trees are planted in their place, many studies suggest that it will take decades, and in some cases centuries, to absorb enough carbon to “pay back” the carbon debt by burning the older trees. That’s a problem because scientists don’t believe that the world can wait decades or even centuries to cut emissions. At a time when global demand for pulp is already increasing, the US is already the main supplier and the world is set to expand its carbon sinks to avoid climate catastrophes, the green-sounding technology of bioenergy is attracting even more carbon. rich wood from US forests.

Timothy Searchinger, a Princeton University climate expert who co-organized the letter from scientists and economists, points out that Americans recycle their paper and cardboard instead of burning them to save pulp. They probably don’t believe they are saving trees so they can be cut down, chopped up, shipped across the Atlantic and burned in Europe.

“There’s no need to go to the trouble of recycling to save trees and then burn the trees,” Searchinger said.

IS RENEWABLE ALWAYS GREEN?

T.The rapid growth of biomass power over the past decade is partly a story of the unintended consequences of the arcane accounting rules that countries are using to track their progress toward global climate goals.

It’s complicated, but the United Nations basically put global reporting rules in place to avoid double-counting emissions and inadvertently made it easy not to count emissions at all. In theory, countries were allowed to ignore emissions from burning wood in power plants as long as they were counting emissions from deforestation of wood in forests. In practice, countries have had their power plants burn wood without counting emissions anywhere, which has made biomass appear as climate-friendly as wind or sun.

As a result, European states with renewable energy mandates have put money into biomass plants that claim to deliver zero-emission electricity around the clock. The gigantic Drax plant in England, which was the UK’s largest coal-fired power plant before switching most of its operations to wood pellets, receives well over $ 1 billion in annual subsidies. Currently the US only supplies wood, but if Biden and the Democratic majority in Congress manage to pass similar mandates on renewable energy, and wood burning is still considered inherently carbon neutral, the US could see a similar boom in biomass power plants.

Biden has set a goal of a net-zero nation by 2050, and Enviva officials suggested that I investigate a recent Princeton study of a net-zero America because it envisioned scenarios where biomass was up to Could Produce 5 Percent of US Electricity When I spoke to Eric Larson, a senior research engineer on the study, he warned that most of these scenarios assume that the biomass would come from residues. “We’re certainly not talking about using pulp,” says Larson. In any case, the study did not exactly support the biomass industry: it found that the best way to reduce emissions in the energy sector for the next decade is to build as much wind and sun as possible.

In a way, the whole argument boils down to what we actually need from our future energy sources: just because biomass is renewable doesn’t mean it’s better for the climate. Congress included the language in a draft budget stating that biomass should be considered climate neutral as long as American forest stocks are stable or growing. However, this had less to do with climate math or science than with the strong bipartisan support for forestry on Capitol Hill. The anti-biomass documentation Burned contains a clip from Maine Republican Senator Susan Collins, the sponsor of the language, which is spoken almost verbatim in the Senate.

Even some industry defenders acknowledge that carbon neutrality is a stretch. When I asked Enviva to suggest experts to explain the importance of biomass power, the company suggested speaking to the President of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, Bob Perciasepe, who was Obama’s deputy EPA administrator and along with Biden the Pro-Biomass authored Chief Agriculture Officer Robert Bonnie. Perciasepe advocated modest amounts of biomass as a substitute for coal, but also called the industry view that biomass power is inherently climate neutral “simply wrong”.

“I would say the people who are very enthusiastic should soften their enthusiasm, just as the opponents should probably soften their opposition,” he said.

The enthusiasts acknowledge that the case of biomass power is much more complex than their opponents’ mantra of growing trees, not burning trees. To understand it, you have to understand how trees grow today, and you can’t miss the forest for the trees.

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