Mislabelling renewable energy: greenwashing forest fuels
Mislabelling renewable energy: greenwashing forest fuels
Thursday April 23, 2020

When you think about renewable energy, you (like me) probably think about some familiar images: wind turbines, solar panels, even geothermal plants.

What you probably aren’t thinking of is burning things to make power. Because after all, since when is burning s#!% a climate solution? Isn’t the idea to move on from burning things like coal and oil, to less polluting energy production?

Unfortunately, the label of renewable energy can be dangerous. In the case of biomass energy, which here means burning wood to generate power, the labels of “renewable” and “carbon neutral” have been used to propel the growth of biomass energy -- at great cost to forests and the planet.

In places like the U.K., where coal plants are being converted to burn wood products, companies receive huge amounts of subsidies to transition away from coal. The largest among these is Drax, which runs a power station east of Leeds and receives the equivalent of a billion dollars a year in subsidies.

Protecting the world's last few temperate rainforest from deforestation

The worst part of this? Biomass emissions at Drax are actually worse in terms of climate-pollution CO2 than they were with coal. That’s right: this “renewable” energy is a worse polluter than coal, oil, and gas.

Even more tragically, the impact of this sector on the land is stark. Canada is now the world’s second-largest exporter of wood pellets, an innocuous little package of dried wood fibre. In British Columbia, the province that exports the most pellets (including to the U.K.), companies use whole trees to make pellets.

At a time when we need forests more than ever to mitigate climate change and buffer our communities from flood, fire, and drought, we are essentially allowing them to be burned under the guise of clean energy.

Governments need to come clean about the impacts of growing the wood pellet export sector. Our climate and forests simply cannot afford additional pressure. Instead of subsidizing a false climate solution, governments should invest in real renewables, protect primary forests, and support forest communities in transitioning to locally-managed, second-growth forestry that is viable in the long-run.