New Analysis finds Burning Wood Pellets from U.S. Hardwood Forests Results in More Carbon Emissions than Burning Coal

Drax Supplier Enviva’s Use of Hardwood Forests in Carolinas & VA for Wood Pellets Increases Emissions

Chapel Hill N.C. –A new analysis by experts in carbon lifecycle modeling, Spatial Informatics Group LLC, reveals that using wood pellets made from hardwood trees cut down in eastern North Carolina and Virginia forests as currently practiced by Enviva, a U.S. supplier for UK power company Drax, will produce 2 1/2 times more carbon pollution than continuing to burn coal for 40 years and more than three times coal’s carbon over 100 years.  Ironically, the increasing demand for the wood pellets that Enviva makes from U.S. forests stems from UK policies intended to lower the carbon pollution responsible for climate change.

“It’s just common sense to make sure that what’s counted as cutting carbon pollution actually cuts carbon pollution,” said Derb Carter, a senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center which has been investigating the sourcing of wood pellets in the Carolinas and Virginia.  “Cutting down hardwood forests in the Southern U.S. to replace burning coal in UK power plants doesn’t reduce carbon pollution, but substantially increases carbon emissions over many decades.  Accurate carbon accounting by the UK would lead to renewable energy sources that benefit rather than harm our climate and would save the natural forests and wetlands crucial to the Carolinas and Virginia.”

Despite claims to the contrary over the past several years, Enviva now concedes that it uses whole trees at its pellet plants. Inspection of its log yards at its pellet mills by US and UK media revealed this in 2013.  Enviva is clearly using tree trunks, along with tops and limbs from clearcut hardwood forests.

In submissions relating to compliance with the EU Timber Regulation, Enviva disclosed that each of its existing plants in North Carolina and Virginia relies on approximately 80 percent or more hardwood input. Its three plants in southeast Virginia and northeast North Carolina produce 1.38 million metric tons of pellets annually, and provide a large portion of Enviva’s supply for Drax.  Enviva has provided one million metric tons of pellets to Drax annually since April 2014.

Proposed port expansions in North Carolina and South Carolina would add five more wood pellet mills sourcing wood from eastern North Carolina and South Carolina, including three more Enviva mills.  Of those three additional Enviva wood pellet mills, two mills are proposed in North Carolina and one mill in South Carolina.

The SIG analysis used the sourcing described by Enviva and Drax in its own documents and calculated carbon emissions based on the default model from the UK’s Department of Energy and Climate Change’s Biomass Emissions and Counterfactual Model.  SIG prepared the analysis at the request of the Southern Environmental Law Center. Copies of the analysis by SIG are available at www.southernenvironment.org

SELC sent a letter regarding the analysis to UK and EU policymakers available here.

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The Southern Environmental Law Center is a regional nonprofit using the power of the law to protect the health and environment of the Southeast (Virginia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama). Founded in 1986, SELC's team of over 60 legal experts represent more than 100 partner groups on issues of climate change and energy, air and water quality, forests, the coast and wetlands, transportation, and land use. www.SouthernEnvironment.org

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