Greenwashing on the cheap: Enviva's miniscule conservation grants

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Look at that cute little forest over there:

Maryland-based Enviva, criticized by environmentalists for mills that make wood pellets to be burned as fuel in European power plants, said Wednesday it is spending $295,000 for grants that will help two conservation groups protect bottomland forests in North Carolina.

The Triangle Land Conservancy will receive $100,000 to help acquire a conservation easement on 127 wooded acres near Beaverdam Lake and the Neuse River east of Raleigh. The Nature Conservancy North Carolina chapter will receive $195,000 toward the $935,000 purchase of 1,294 acres of forested wetlands on the Roanoke River in Washington County.

If anybody reading this is on the boards or otherwise associated with these two (great) non-profits, please try to focus on the big picture. And that big picture is missing hundreds of thousands of acres of forests in the Southeast already, and NC hardwoods are being chopped up at an alarming rate:

But using hardwood trees from bottomlands results in a different carbon calculation, Abt says. Using these species of trees requires a much longer time to make up for the released carbon, as bottomland hardwoods grow more slowly. Abt also points out that floodplain forests, which are typically owned by smaller, private owners, tend not to be certified to adhere to sustainability standards. Regeneration in bottomlands also tends to be more variable and depends on local hydrological conditions.

When a mill consumes nearly a million tons of wood a year, it’s difficult to track where every single tree comes from, according to Abt and other experts. But Forisk, a consulting company that tracks forest industry trends, calculates that the majority of the wood used at Enviva’s Ahoskie, N.C., mill comes from hardwood trees — including those typically found in wetland forests.

Generally, wood pellet mills in North Carolina and Virginia are more reliant on these slower-to-regrow hardwoods, while mills in Georgia, for instance, mainly utilize plantation pines, Abt says. These two different classes of trees are “on different ends of the spectrum” when it comes to both forestry management and how much carbon is released and sequestered, he notes.

More than 168,000 acres of forest are at risk of being cut down for producing wood pellets for one facility.

Bolding mine. NC currently has two facilities, and is on track to add (at least) three more. Do the math, and then tell me how those two relatively tiny tracts will accomplish anything other than misdirection.

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The misinformation feeding this industry

And we environmentalists are allowing this to go unchallenged:

Several states in the South Census region, have increased their electricity generation from biomass. These states have ample forest resources, generally poor wind resources, and relatively unfavorable solar resources (compared to the Southwest), making biomass among the more readily available renewable energy resources in the region.

WTF are you talking about? The South is a *prime* location for Solar photovoltaic, which is why hundreds of Solar farms are being built here. Grrr.

Virginia has a statewide program to convert coal plants to biomass, with several plants that converted during 2013. Three of these plants, each rated at 51 megawatts (MW) and operated by Dominion Power, are located in Alta Vista, Hopewell, and Southampton. The conversions to biomass are part of Dominion's commitment to achieve Virginia's voluntary goal of generating 15% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2025. Also in 2013, the Northern Virginia Electric Cooperative (NOVEC) commissioned a 50 MW wood waste biomass plant in South Boston, Virginia. In 2012, Miller-Coors Brewing also opened a biomass-based electricity plant in Elkton, Virginia, to dispose of brewing wastes. Finally, an industrial plant in Altavista switched from natural gas to biomass as its primary fuel and upgraded capacity to add wood solids to its fuel mix.

Burning forests is not renewable energy, it's ecosystem destruction on a massive scale and carbon intensive.

As I've said before, this could be the most devastating development in the energy "mix" we've ever seen, and every one of our environmental organizations needs to be fighting this as a matter of course.