How European energy policy can affect business in Georgia – and the trees

The European Union is considering changes to its climate policies that could have a major impact on Georgia’s trees and businesses in Georgia.

This story also appeared on WABE

The EU uses wood pellets made from trees in the southeast to burn electricity and says the practice is carbon neutral. Now that can change that position.

David Borax, the WFAE climate reporter in Charlotte, reported on the wood pellet industry. He spoke with WABE about what this possible change in policy could mean.

“The United States is Europe’s main supplier of wood pellets, and the industry is growing rapidly, especially here in the southeast,” Borax said. “Exports of wood pellets in the United States have increased by more than 60% since 2016, with sales of just over $ 1 billion a year.

This is a large business in Georgia, home to the world’s largest wood pellet factory located in Waycross. According to the State Forestry Commission, in 2019 Georgia exported wood pellets worth nearly $ 260 million.

“Enviva, which owns the Waycross plant, is the largest exporter in the United States. He is building more factories and says he wants to double sales in the next five years, “Borax said.

Wood pellets are produced from trees and from parts of trees left after felling. The wood is ground and pressed into small pellets, which can then be burned instead of coal, he said.

Borax explains that the wood pellet industry has grown to the south for several reasons: Most of the forests here are privately owned and allow logging, unlike in Europe; The southern states subsidize the construction of wood pellet plants to support job growth in rural areas; and Europe classifies wood pellet burning as carbon neutral, and governments there pay energy companies to use pellets instead of coal.

“The trees are certainly renewable, but it could take decades to re-grow the forests lost by these operations,” he said.

In general, he says, wood pellets are not actually carbon neutral.

“Burning wood pellets releases more carbon than coal,” he said. “And climate researchers say we also need to include carbon emissions from the entire wood pellet supply chain – in harvesting, transporting wood pellets to and from ports and transporting them to Europe on diesel ships.

At the local level, he added, wood pellet plants are often located in flower communities and lower-income communities. “Factories create jobs, but they also bring dust, noise and truck traffic. So neighborhood leaders and activists pushed back, “he said.

Enviva’s wood pellet plant in Northampton County, North Carolina, shown at night. The company also operates a plant in Waycross, Georgia, and plans to expand further. (David Borax / WFAE)

The European Parliament is now reviewing its rules on wood pellets. “After years of criticism and lobbying from environmentalists on both sides of the Atlantic,” Borax said. “The Environment Committee approved new restrictions this month on the use of timber harvested from primary forests.

The change will go to another committee and “may be put to a vote in the European Parliament in September,” he said.

The wood pellet industry is struggling, Borax said.

The American Pellet Association said in a statement that wood pellets were needed “to protect European energy security and achieve ambitious climate goals.”

Enviva declined to comment.

“Critics of the industry are hopeful but cautious,” he said. “Meanwhile, the UK, which is the largest consumer of wood pellets, is no longer a member of the EU. So there is a parallel effort to limit wood pellets. We can hear something by the end of the year. ”

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