Kristy Dyer Cartoon

Dyer: Wood pellets cause carbon emissions in more ways than one

Kristy Dyer has a background in art and physics and consulted for Silicon Valley

You may be aware that we mine for coal in British Columbia. Thanks to hydroelectric power, we have some of the cleanest electricity anywhere on the planet. We don’t burn coal for electricity ourselves. Instead we enable other people’s coal habit.

BC is doing something very similar with wood pellets. British Columbia exports wood pellets to Europe and Japan. An accounting loophole in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol means that carbon emissions from wood burning of any kind fall under “land use”, not “energy”. This means that Germany or Japan doesn’t have to include the smoke rising from pellet stoves or electricity plants in their greenhouse gas emissions reports if the wood is imported. British Columbia includes carbon-storage lost from cutting down trees, but not the carbon emitted from burning. As a result each year world-wide there is more and more carbon in the atmosphere from burning wood.

This isn’t the only confusion over wood fuel

Subsidies because pellets are part of the “natural carbon cycle”: To make matters worse BC is providing 27 million dollars in subsidies to “increase the use of wood fibre” (see Wood waste funds keep jobs running in North Okanagan).

Europe is providing subsidies to turn coal fired electricity into wood-fired electricity. Why? The argument is that the wood carbon cycle is natural. Trees gather carbon, grow tall, then die and release carbon. We harvest the trees, burn them, releasing the carbon, and as long as we plant new trees, everything is in balance. There are a couple of problems with this argument. First, many carbon models confirm that the numbers do balance, but only when the new trees are about a hundred years old. That’s way too late for the planet. Second, many organizations feel that BC is not accurately monitoring forest use or isn’t planting and maintaining enough trees to make up for the amount of logging we do.

READ MORE: North Okanagan woodstove exchange program continues

Mature trees are sneaking into pellet food: The idea behind pellet use is that you are creating a product from what would otherwise be particle board or waste. In practice however, trees that are currently pulling carbon from the atmosphere can be classified as “low grade” or “inferior” or “verified wood waste” and harvested to create wood pellets, going far beyond “residue” wood.

READ MORE: B.C. logging costs can’t be increased now, forest industry says

Intensive harvests disturb soil carbon: Our Okanagan example, the Pinnacle Renewable Energy/Tolko project harvesting in the Monashee Mountains is an interesting case. The project is recovering 38,000 cubic meters from already logged terrain. Even after logging removes the living trees, there is carbon stored in the forest floor, top soil, mid soil and deep soil. There’s growing evidence that “intensive harvests” (defined as “the collection of tree stems and logging residues”) decrease the ability of the soil to hold on to carbon especially at the forest floor and deep soil level (Achat et al 2015, Hamburg et al 2019, Meyer et al 2020).

Wood is not a very dense form of fuel. You have to burn a lot to create a single kilowatt hour of electricity. This alone makes wood a bad choice for creating energy. Burning wood releases more carbon than burning coal by about 13 percent. Yes, forestry is a big part of BC’s economy, but subsidies for creating wood pellets are accelerating our carbon emission — the exact opposite of what was intended.

Missed last week’s column?

Dyer: Financing energy efficiency

Kristy Dyer has a background in art and physics and consulted for Silicon Valley clean energy firms before moving (happily!) to sunny Penticton. Comments to Kristy.Dyer+BP@gmail.com

Kristy’s articles are archived at teaspoonenergy.blogspot.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Environment

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Numerous businesses, including the Roxie movie theater, have closed to try and stop spread of COVID-19. (Liam Harrap/Revelstoke Review)
Revelstoke COVID-19 cases tick slowly up to 49

An increase of only three cases since Nov. 30

Danielle Kraemer tested positive for COVID-19. She is one of so far 46 cases in the community since the beginning of November. She is sharing her story publicly to stop the spread of fear. (Submitted)
I have COVID-19: Revelstokian shares her mental anguish with the deadly virus

Everyone is different and we should talk about it says Danielle Kraemer

(File)
One death and 82 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

1,981 total cases, 609 are active and those individuals are on isolation

Paramedic Jason Manuel, dressed in PPE, inspects an ambulance at Station 341 on Nov. 30. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
Second wave, twice the anxiety; Okanagan paramedics reflect on pandemic from the front line

‘I don’t know who that (next) person is going to be, I don’t want it to be me or my family’: Paramedic

Motorists wait to enter a Fraser Health COVID-19 testing facility, in Surrey, B.C., on Monday, Nov. 9, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Another 694 diagnosed with COVID-19 in B.C. Thursday

Three more health care outbreaks, 12 deaths

British Columbia Health Minister Adrian Dix wears a face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19, during an announcement about a new regional cancer centre, in Surrey, B.C., on Thursday, August 6, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
PHSA bought faulty ventilators; spent money on catering, renovations: Dix

Such spending included ‘unnecessary, unbudgeted renovations’ to the authority’s headquarters in Vancouver

B.C. NDP leader John Horgan releases his election platform, Vancouver, Oct. 6, 2020, featuring COVID-19 relief payments promised for most households. (B.C. NDP photo)
Next $1.5 billion in B.C. COVID-19 cash ‘prudent,’ Horgan says

New round of paymens for household incomes up to $175,000

KIJHL games have been postponed through Dec. 31. (File photo)
KIJHL postpones all games through end of 2020

Due to provincial health orders, games up to Dec. 31 have been pushed back

Robert Riley Saunders. (File)
Former Kelowna social worker arrested for allegedly stealing from foster kids

Robert Riley Saunders was arrested in Alberta and will be brought back to B.C. to face charges

The Grinch was stolen Wednesday and returned sometime in the night on Friday. (Hughes photo - Facebook)
The Grinch has been returned to Penticton home

“I guess someone’s heart grew three times that night” says April Hughes

An Armstrong resident shared video of a beaver gnawing away on a stick to Facebook Friday, Dec. 4, 2020. (Robyn Civic Adnoh photo)
WATCH: Beaver gnaws away in Armstrong wetlands

A resident captured video of a beaver chewing happily in a local creek Friday

Danielle Kraemer tested positive for COVID-19. She is one of so far 46 cases in the community since the beginning of November. She is sharing her story publicly to stop the spread of fear. (Submitted)
I have COVID-19: Revelstokian shares her mental anguish with the deadly virus

Everyone is different and we should talk about it says Danielle Kraemer

Two Kelowna flights have been flagged as having COVID-19 cases on board. (Black Press Media file photo)
COVID-19 cases on several Kelowna flights

The flights were on Nov. 19, 22, 24 and 27, according to the BC Centre for Disease Control

Most Read