The European Union is considering changes to its climate policies that could have a significant impact on Georgia’s trees and Georgia’s business.
The European Union uses wood pellets made from trees in the southeast to burn for electricity and claims the practice is carbon neutral. Now, that situation may change.
“The United States is the main supplier of wood pellets to Europe, and the industry is growing fast — mainly here in the Southeast,” Borax says. “US wood pellet exports have increased more than 60% since 2016, with sales of just over $1 billion annually.”
It is a large company in Georgia, which is home to the largest wood pellet plant in the world, located in Waycross. According to the State Forestry Commission, in 2019 Georgia exported nearly $260 million in wood pellets.
“Enviva, which owns the plant in Waycross, is the largest exporter to the United States. It is building more plants and says it wants to double its sales over the next five years,” Burak says.
Wood pellets are made from trees and from tree scraps after felling. The wood is ground and pressed into small pellets that can then be burned in place of charcoal, he says.
Burak explains that the wood pellet industry has grown in the south for several reasons: Most of the forests here are privately owned and allow logging, unlike in Europe; Southern states support wood pellet plant construction to support rural job growth; Europe classifies burning wood pellets as carbon neutral, and governments there are paying energy companies to use pellets instead of coal.
“Trees are certainly renewable, but it can take decades to replant the forests that were lost in these processes,” he says.
In general, he says, wood pellets are not actually carbon neutral.
“Burning wood pellets emits more carbon than charcoal,” he says. “Climate researchers say we must also include carbon emissions from the entire wood pellet supply chain — in the harvesting and trucking of wood pellets to and from ports, and shipping them to Europe on diesel-powered ships.”
At the local level, he adds, wood grain plants are often found in communities of color and in low-income communities. “Factories are already creating jobs, but they also bring dust, noise, and truck traffic. So neighborhood leaders and activists hit back,” he says.
Now, the European Parliament is reconsidering its rules for wood grain. “After years of criticism and pressure from environmentalists on both sides of the Atlantic,” Borax says. “This month the Environment Committee approved new restrictions on the use of wood harvested from primary forests.”
The change will go to another committee and “could be put to a vote in the European Parliament in full in September,” he said.
The wood-grain industry is resisting, says Borax.
The American Wood Pellet Association said in a statement that wood pellets are essential “to protect European energy security and achieve ambitious climate goals.”
Enviva declined to comment.
“Critics of the industry are optimistic but cautious,” he says. Meanwhile, Britain, which is the largest user of wood pellets, is no longer a member of the European Union. So there’s a parallel effort going on there to reduce the wood pellets. We can hear something by the end of the year.”
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