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Group takes aim at wood pellet industry

by Mark Sabourin
EcoLog, 5/1/2020 12:35:00 PM

The environmental organization Stand.earth is claiming that two of British Columbia’s (B.C.’s) largest wood pellet manufacturers, Pacific BioEnergy and Pinnacle Renewable Energy, are harvesting whole trees in their manufacturing. The report also suggests, but does not directly claim, that the harvest includes healthy trees, which would run counter to the wood pellet industry’s position that its members use only sawmill residues, logging waste and diseased and insect-ridden trees.

“Extensive clearcutting in the BC interior continues to take place under the pretense of harvesting insect-infested trees,” the report’s authors write. “Pellet plants have secured wood harvest at massively discounted rates due to apparent spruce beetle infestation. A 2019 investigation focused on Anzac Valley clearcuts north of Prince George found that in these log piles, ‘three quarters of the spruce had no sign of beetle attack.’”

EcoLog News contacted both Pacific BioEnergy and Pinnacle Renewable Energy for comment on the report’s claims, and specifically the suggestion that the companies were harvesting healthy trees. Neither company had responded by press time.

Stand.earth also claims that the growing wood pellet sector is an additional threat to the habitat of endangered species, such as the woodland caribou, and that the burning of wood pellets for power generation is more damaging to the environment than coal. The bulk of B.C.’s wood pellet production is exported to Europe, where it is used in power generation.

Others have challenged those claims, however. Gary Bull, head of the forest resource management department at the University of British Columbia, told the digital magazine The Narwhal that he had seen “‘virtually no evidence’ of a relationship between wood pellet manufacturing and the destruction of endangered species habitat.”

The website of the Wood Pellet Association of Canada, citing figures from Ontario Power Generation, says emissions for sulphur dioxide were reduced by 11,160 tonnes, for nitrogen oxides by 5,411 tonnes, and for mercury to zero over the 2011 to 2015 period, following the conversion of a power plant from coal to biomass.

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