Converting coal plants to biomass could fuel climate crisis, scientists warn

(The Guardian, 16 Dec 2019) Experts horrified at large-scale forest removal to meet wood pellet demand.

Plans to shift Europe’s coal plants, including the giant Drax complex in North Yorkshire, to burn wood pellets instead could accelerate rather than combat climate crisis and lay waste to forests equal to half the size of Germany’s Black Forest per year, according to campaigners.

Climate thinktank Sandbag said the heavily subsidised plans to cut carbon emissions will result in a “staggering” amount of tree cutting, potentially destroying forests faster than they can regrow.

Sandbag found that Europe’s 10 largest biomass conversion projects will alone require 36m tonnes of wood pellets every year, equal to the entire current global wood pellet production. This would require forests covering 2,700 sq km to be cut down every year, the equivalent of half the Black Forest in Germany.

The majority of wood pellets to be used at Drax, and much of the plants in the rest of Europe are imported from the US and Canada, “meaning that there’s a huge added environmental cost in transporting the wood from the other side of the Atlantic,” said the report’s author, Charles Moore.

The planned biomass conversions – with Finland, Germany and Netherlands leading the way – would emit 67m tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere which would be unlikely to be reabsorbed by growing trees over the timescales relevant to meeting the Paris agreement, warned Sandbag.

In return, the forest-hungry power plants would produce less than 2% of the EU’s electricity needs, the same generation capacity built in Europe every year by wind and solar farm developers.

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The Guardian, 16 Dec 2019: Converting coal plants to biomass could fuel climate crisis, scientists warn