I would have said that nothing could exceed the folly of wind and solar energy, but biomass may come close. This Vox article is headlined: “Europe’s renewable energy policy is built on burning American trees.” You no doubt have heard of “biomass,” but likely don’t know what it actually means. As the headline suggests, it mostly means American trees.
In the lowland forests of the American southeast, loblolly pines and cypress trees are grabbing carbon dioxide from the air right now. Using power from the sun, they release the oxygen and bind the carbon, building trunks, barks, and leaves.
But much of that carbon won’t stay there. As it turns out, millions of tons of wood from these forests each year are being shipped across the Atlantic, and burned in power plants in countries like the UK and the Netherlands, in the name of slowing climate change.
This chart is revealing, to say the least. I had no idea that burning trees played such a large role in Europe’s “green” energy initiative:
This “green” energy story is all about economics:
[I]n 2009, the EU committed itself to 20 percent renewable energy by 2020, and put biomass on the renewables list. Several countries, like the United Kingdom, subsidized the biomass industry, creating a sudden market for wood not good enough for the timber industry. In the United States, Canada, and Eastern Europe, crooked trees, bark, treetops, and sawdust have been pulped, pressed into pellets, and heat-dried in kilns. By 2014, biomass accounted for 40 percent of the EU’s renewable energy, by far the largest source. By 2020, it’s projected to make up 60 percent, and the US plans to follow suit.
What goes on a “renewable” list depends entirely on political influence. Nuclear energy isn’t on the list, even though it emits no carbon dioxide. Hydroelectric isn’t on many “renewable” lists, either.
There are few bigger players in the biomass industry than Drax Group, whose flagship power plant in the north of England sucks up nearly a quarter of global wood pellet production, about two-thirds of it from the US. The UK has bought big into biomass, and Drax powers 10 percent of the British electric grid, in large part thanks to massive government subsidies: about $1.2 billion a year.
As always, the “green” world depends on subsidies.
Burning wood emits carbon dioxide, of course, but not as much as coal. (Much more, on the other hand, than nuclear or hydroelectric.) At the same time, trees absorb carbon dioxide–it is called photosynthesis, and when I was young, kids learned about this in junior high school. So biomass is doubly questionable if you believe the global warming hype.
The Vox article takes for granted all of the hyperbole about global warming, but points out that the premise on which burning wood is “carbon neutral” is the assumption that all wood will eventually decay and release CO2 back into the atmosphere. That might be true (it isn’t, actually, which is why we have oil and gas) but only on a time scale that is too long to be helpful if you think the world is facing a climate crisis.
To quote an infamous Congresswoman in an entirely different context, it’s all about the Benjamins. Whether an energy source is denominated “green” or not depends on the political clout of the companies that profit from its use.
This discussion of biomass reminds me of how retrograde “green” technologies are. Wood burning? Yeah, that was a great idea in 1000 AD. Wind energy? It works intermittently, at a low level. When I was growing up in South Dakota, every farm had a windmill. They were used mostly to drive pumps for wells, I believe. But they became extinct as better, more reliable sources of energy became universally available. Do today’s greenies have any understanding of how hopelessly old-fashioned their policies are? I doubt it.