Burning wood is not ‘renewable energy,’ so why do policymakers pretend it is?

Burning wood to generate electricity — “biomass energy” — is increasingly being pursued as a renewable replacement for burning coal in nations like the U.K., Japan, and South Korea — even though its emissions aren’t carbon neutral in practice.

On this episode of the Mongabay Newscast, reporter Justin Catanoso speaks with Rachel Donald about the single largest emitter of CO2 in the U.K., biomass firm Drax, which is trying to open two wood pellet plants in the state of California.

Catanoso explains how years of investigation helped him uncover a complicated web of public relations messaging that obscures the fact that replanting trees after cutting them down and burning them is not in practice carbon neutral or renewable and severely harms global biodiversity and forests.

“When those trees get ripped out, that carbon gets released. And that comes before we process this wood and ship it … then we burn it and don’t count those emissions. This is just [an] imponderable policy,” he says on this episode.

Justin Catanoso is no stranger to wood pellet plants, as he lives near four of them in the U.S. state of North Carolina, where biomass giant Enviva has several facilities. While that company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy this year, it remains the single largest producer of wood pellets globally.

This firm is one of several (alongside Drax in the U.K.) seeking to expand its global stake in the shift to renewable energy — a category of energy generation that industry and regulators insist burning biomass belongs in. However, a recent analysis shows it’s not renewable and adds more carbon to the atmosphere than coal and gas. 06-11-24

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