A recent report in The Ecologist from an environmentalist working for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) talks about the damaging effects of burning trees from US forests in biomass power plants in the UK.
Matt Williams is a policy officer for the charity and was keen to see the impact of the UK's thirst for biomass energy production for himself. He travelled to the Southern US, where large numbers of trees are being cut down, ready for processing into wood pellets for onward export to the UK. Here they are burned in vast quantities in the name of renewable or 'clean' energy despite the UK government's own research revealing that this practice is capable of being four times more polluting than the coal-fired power stations they are replacing.
Williams explains: "As well as the devastating impact on forests and wildlife, evidence now shows that the use of whole trees such as these could be resulting in increases in emissions relative to the fossil fuels they replace."
He explains that emissions from the burning of trees imported to the UK from the US are not accounted for, as the US is not signed up to the UN's Kyoto Protocol, thereby, allowing carbon emissions from US harvested trees to be ignored. As a result, to classify the burning of US timber as carbon neutral is both misleading and simply incorrect.
Williams concludes by calling for bioenergy to play only a limited role in the future of energy production. He adds: "However, it needs to be based on genuine emissions reductions, rather than false and unscientific claims."