According to a recent Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) report, burning wood in fuel power stations instead of coal does nothing to lower harmful carbon emissions. Kenneth Richter from Friends of the Earth said: “This is really embarrassing for the government - they have finally admitted what we have been saying for a very long time”. He went on: “Under the current rules there is no way of government knowing whether wood is being burned in a way that is beneficial to the climate or not."
Subsidies for making the problem worse
The report will not only catch the attention of the environmentalist protesters who have been demanding change but also the UK tax payer, as energy firms have previously been given subsidies to burn wood instead of coal, in order to meet renewable targets. It is becoming apparent that energy firms have been receiving subsidies for making the problem worse. It would seem that this has caused controversy within the DECC, with indication that the rules have been far too simplistic.According to the DECC, much bigger carbon savings can be made by simply leaving the wood in the forests.
A larger carbon footprint
The argument has been that burning wood is a source of renewable energy, as new trees are planted when existing trees are felled, soaking up CO2 emissions as they grow. But burning biomass such as wood comes with a larger carbon footprint than that of only burning the fuel. The pollution created by amassing biomass includes greenhouse gas when cutting down the forest, transportation of the wood around the world and the final burning.The DECC have had to ramp up their research into the subject following a paper written by an American academic that states burning whole trees produces more emissions than that of burning coal once the whole process is taken into account.
Wood pellets vs. whole trees
Drax is the UK’s largest power station and will be switching half of its boilers to wood pellets in place of coal. The situation is complex as the firm says that they will only use off cuts of wood that would otherwise go to waste. Drax own a wood pellet operation in America that collects thinning (the wood by-product of forest floor management) and off-cuts from trees. This wood is deemed carbon-friendlier and appropriate to use in their power station. But other firms providing wood pellets to the UK are taking wood from whole trees in environmentally unstable swamp forests.
The DECC may be able to help government by calculating the most useful, most environmentally-friendly forms of biomass to burn in the UK but when the evidence will be spread amongst many different firms across thousands of miles, the facts may very well become watered down.