Europe Rethinks Its Reliance on Burning Wood for Electricity

Lately, Europe’s energy vegetation have slashed their use of coal by burning one thing else as an alternative: Thousands and thousands of tons of wooden, a lot of it imported from the US.

A controversial European Union coverage known as the Renewable Vitality Directive drove this transition by counting biomass — natural materials like wooden, burned as gas — as renewable power and subsidizing its use. A trans-Atlantic business developed, logging American forests and processing the fabric into pellets, that are then shipped to Europe. However critics have lengthy argued that the subsidies even have few local weather advantages and needs to be scrapped.

Late Tuesday in Brussels, a committee of the European Parliament voted to make substantial modifications to each how the union subsidizes biomass, and the way it counts emissions from burning it — insurance policies with main penalties if handed by the complete Parliament. It’s a part of a broad bundle of local weather insurance policies that will alter not solely the way in which Europe generates electrical energy in coming years, but additionally for the way the European Union meets its targets for decreasing greenhouse-gas emissions.

“This vote is a historic breakthrough,” mentioned Martin Pigeon, a forests and local weather campaigner with Fern, a nonprofit group targeted on European forests. “For the primary time, a serious E.U. regulatory physique makes clear that one of many E.U.’s most climate-wrecking insurance policies of the final decade, incentivizing the burning of forests within the title of renewable power, has to cease.”

Wooden, in fact, is not like oil or coal as a result of timber could be regrown, pulling planet-warming carbon dioxide out of the air. But it surely takes a century, on average, for the carbon dioxide emissions from burned wooden to be reabsorbed in a rising forest, throughout which period the launched carbon dioxide is contributing to international warming. Burning wooden to generate electrical energy additionally releases more carbon dioxide than fossil fuels to supply the identical quantity of power. However underneath the earlier European Union guidelines, emissions from biomass weren’t counted towards the bloc’s pledges to scale back greenhouse gasses.

Different modifications proposed this week would eradicate most public monetary assist for biomass, together with each direct subsidies and oblique measures like rebates or tax credit. The principles additionally start to depend emissions from biomass, and prohibit entry to “certain kinds of “green” financing.

Bas Eickhout, a Dutch politician and member of the European Parliament who advocated for the revisions, mentioned they’d take the essential step of defining “major woody biomass,” which is actually wooden harvested instantly from forests. (The definition agreed to this week gives exceptions for wooden sourced from timber broken by fires, pests, and illness.) “This would scale back the incentives for burning wooden for power,” Mr. Eickhout mentioned, encouraging the usage of industrial waste, like scraps or sawdust, somewhat than unprocessed wooden, in addition to shifting the main target to different types of renewable power altogether.

However not everyone seems to be proud of the proposed modifications. A coalition of 10 European Union member states, led by Sweden, issued an announcement this winter saying that the amendments risked Europe’s means to attain its pledge to scale back greenhouse gasoline emissions by 55 percent by 2030, in comparison with 1990 ranges.

“These frequent modifications of the legislative framework undermine the soundness of the market and hamper the need to spend money on renewable power,” mentioned Khashayar Farmanbar, the Swedish power minister, who was one of many letter’s authors. He added that decreasing biomass availability would make Europe’s power transition “tougher, together with to quickly section out fossil fuels from Russia.”

Representatives of the wood-pellet business additionally raised objections. “Excluding major biomass would set again efforts to attain European power safety, elevate power costs for shoppers, and put the E.U.’s local weather targets far out of attain,” the U.S. Industrial Pellet Affiliation, an business group, wrote in an announcement.

Biomass has seen large development over the previous decade. Earlier than the 2009 passage of the Renewable Vitality Directive, which categorized it as renewable, basically virtually no European power got here from biomass. Since then, it has boomed right into a $10-billion-a-year business, and now produces round 60 percent of what the European Union considers renewable power.

These wood-burning vegetation could be allowed to proceed working underneath the revised coverage, although they’ll now not be eligible for subsidies. Final yr was the primary time biomass in Europe was worthwhile with out authorities assist. This has sparked worries in regards to the continued burning of wooden, mentioned Mary S. Sales space, an ecologist and director of the Partnership for Coverage Integrity, a nonprofit group that promotes data-driven coverage. “Burning wooden emits carbon,” she mentioned. “It’s fundamental physics.”

The consequences of Tuesday’s modifications may stretch throughout the Atlantic to the southeastern United States, the place a lot of Europe’s biomass is harvested. Multiple million acres of American forest have been reduce for biomass, amplifying climate risks like flooding and landslides.

But this week’s vote is simply step one in a protracted course of. After leaving the Atmosphere Committee, the proposed modifications will nonetheless should be adopted by the European Parliament this summer time, leaving time for lobbying and additional amendments. If the measure passes, nationwide governments would nonetheless have to enact the modifications into regulation.

Along with forest merchandise, modifications to meals and feed-crop biofuel requirements had been additionally handed by the committee. Mr. Eickhout additionally argued for modifications to restrict the usage of biofuels in transportation, citing the present food-price spikes. This week the committee known as for a phase-out of merchandise like palm and soy by as early as subsequent yr. These are crops that always result in land use changes, together with deforestation.

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