Sketchy Claims for Wood Energy Exports

Categories: Big picture
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Published on: April 28, 2014

The Tyee / Robert McClure / 24 April 2014

pellets2Eight words in a 927-page document. That’s all it took to launch a European policy with big implications for B.C. That policy counts burning wood to produce energy as equivalent, climate-wise, to solar and wind power. This despite the fact that burning wood releases the very same greenhouse gasses as any fossil fuel; the same gasses that are turning oceans acidic and melting the polar ice caps. Here are the eight words: “The emission factor for biomass shall be zero.”

Not, you will note, “are zero.” No: “shall be zero.” Behind that starkly declarative pronouncement lay months of tense international negotiations over the climate-change implications of burning biomass, or any kind of plant matter: wood, agricultural wastes, or crops grown for burning. In the end, the winning argument was that biomass regrows, recapturing the carbon released when it was burned, and therefore must be OK for the climate.

As the second report in this series found, however, that argument was based on politics, not science. In fact, there are multiple factors at work in determining whether wood and other biomass lives up to its green billing. Nonetheless, the brief sentence has ignited a whole new industry in B.C. in the last decade, shipping boatloads of pelletized wood waste to Europe. There, Canada’s woody biomass is a sought-after commodity to be burned in power plants that put juice on the continental grid.