There’s a Facebook page…!

We found a Facebook page that supports the ‘Stop Burning Our Trees’ campaign and it has some good photographs of all the activity that’s been going on this week in London.

It looks like the giant Jenga went down well in Victoria Station. It certainly looks more fun than taking the wood straight to a power station to burn – hope nobody was late for their train because of it!

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UK Government can’t see the wood from the trees in climate change plans

‘It’s barking up the wrong tree’, says Wood Panel Industries Federation

Power station

An industry group whose business and commerce relies on UK wood says the Government is barking up the wrong tree with its proposed renewable energy plans, especially those concerned with the use of biomass, as part of the commitment to carbon emission reduction targets.

New legislation will bind the UK into an agreement to meet a carbon emissions cut of 80% of 1990 output by 2050 (60% by 2030).  The agreement relies on increased use of, and investment in, renewable electricity and/or heat from wind, wave and tidal sources as well as biomass.

Alastair Kerr, Director General of the Wood Panel Industries Federation (WPIF) which is spearheading a ‘Make Wood Work’ campaign, warns that the plans could cause the exact opposite of the Government’s vision – a drastic increase in carbon emissions, the diversion of UK wood supply into inefficient electricity generation, larger household bills for consumers, and the potential death in the UK of industries that currently contribute positively to the UK both financially and environmentally.

Chris Huhne, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change has already stated that renewables will be absolutely crucial to securing energy supplies and reducing carbon emissions in the decades ahead, and that the Government are reforming the electricity market to help bring forward a surge of investment in renewables1.

Burning woodKerr says, “Until the mass capacity required of wind, wave and tidal energy is reached, and additional biomass capacity from short-rotation and energy crops occurs, one of the most widely available supplies of renewable energy will come from subsidised and notoriously inefficient electricity-only biomass plants burning UK wood.

“This is being actively encouraged through the Renewables Obligation (RO) scheme and the energy suppliers have been quick to respond. Currently, there are an estimated 16 UK biomass fired electricity power stations in operation, under construction or awaiting approval3.  Their demand, coupled with RO subsidies, will distort the UK wood market and it threatens our industries’ future viability.”

The UK has current capacity to produce between 10-11 million tonnes of harvested green wood (wood that has recently been cut from a living tree) per year, and around 4-4.5 million tonnes of waste wood arisings. 

Currently demand for small forest roundwood and recycled wood by existing  users is broadly in balance, but there are supply strains starting to appear and any significant increase in demand by the subsidised electricity sector will seriously distort the market.

A report2 produced by John Clegg Consulting for the Wood Panel Industries Federation and CONFOR estimated that the demand for biomass from wood, wood chips and pellets, and wood waste by 2017 would be 50 million green tonnes.  One proposed plant, RWE npower’s Tilbury B coal-fired power stations is requesting planning permission to adapt to burn wood – this alone would require 6+ million tonnes a year.

Make wood workKerr continues, “The consequence of redirecting, through subsidy, the wood we use today into energy generation would result in a net increase in CO2 emissions totalling six million tonnes per annum – which is bad news for the environment and the taxpayer.  It will drive industries and jobs abroad and once the UK wood and wood waste supply dries up, wood will have to be imported, leading to increased costs passed to consumers, and additional carbon emissions through transportation.”

“The message is simple”, says Kerr.  “There is not enough wood available in the UK to support the number and scale of biomass electricity plants that are being proposed for development.  The RO subsidies promote the burning of wood rather than locking up the carbon through use, re-use, recycling and only then burning it for energy.  This goes against the grain of our own industry practice and the Government’s previously stated support for the waste hierarchy.

“If left unchecked, the subsidy regime could displace existing wood processors and those who rely on UK wood for product manufacture. It is putting at unnecessary risk many thousands of jobs, hitting the pockets of already stretched consumers through increased energy bills and the knock-on effect that increased wood prices will have on the products we produce.

“Most shockingly, the reality behind the climate change deal and the Renewables Obligation policy is that unless rewards to those burning wood for electricity are stopped immediately, in one fell swoop it will actually increase carbon emissions over the next 20 or so years – the exact opposite of the stated goal.” 

  1. Chris Hukne responds to Renewable Energy Review
  2. Department of Energy and Climate Change
  3. Wood fibre availability and demand in Britain 2007-2025

Burning wood is the most carbon intensive use of this resource

Lock-in CO2

The humble chair locks in CO2 for its lifetime

Wood harnessed for biomass energy at the end of its life is a sound proposition, but current subsidies encourage electricity generators to burn virgin wood, which is disastrous for CO2 emissions.

Wood products have the unique ability to store CO2 from the atmosphere. Everything from a wooden garden chair, dining room table and kitchen worktop is a store for CO2 emissions.

The growing forests are carbon sinks, absorbing and storing huge volumes of CO2 from the environment. Then when the wood is processed it locks carbon away for the lifetime of the product. So, we need to use wood, reuse it and recycle it to ensure its potential benefit to the environment is maximised. Then we can burn it for biomass energy.

The total carbon stored in Europe’s wood products is estimated to be 60m t C, the equivalent of 240 million tonnes of CO2 captured from the atmosphere by the trees.

The more wood products replace other materials, the more CO2 is impounded from the atmosphere. That’s why it makes little environmental sense to burn wood for biomass fuel right at the start of its lifecycle.

For more environmental information take a look at the European Panel Federation (EPF) Environment Fact Sheet.

Channel 4 News reports on biomass issue

Channel 4 reports on biomass issue

Check out Channel 4's report on biomass and wood industry

Channel 4’s science correspondent, Simon Clarke, reports on the Government subsidies that are encouraging power companies to burn wood, which is distorting the market for timber and forcing up prices in manufacturing and construction industries.

You can read his report and see the report of Channel 4 news here.

Unfair biomass subsidies threaten wood supply

Burning wood

Use, reuse, recycle and only then burn wood

Current subsidies paid to the biomass industry will cause a potential shortfall, in Europe alone, of up to 400 million m3 of timber by the year 2020, according to a United Nations report.

The subsidies that incentivise the use of wood in energy generation are creating a demand conflict between the manufacturing industry and the energy sector, which threatens future supplies and is pushing up the price of timber.

Several studies indicate a shortfall between the available amount of woody biomass in Europe, and the quantity that is needed to fulfil renewable energy targets set by the EU.

For the year 2020, a shortage of 230 million m³ wood (McKinsey, 2007) to 400 million m³ wood (FAO/UNECE/University of Hamburg) is estimated. This deficit accounts for 1/3 of the total demand of wood in 2020.

In the UK, the Wood Panel Industries Federation is lobbying hard with Government through its Make Wood Work campaign to reverse the consequences of the Renewables Obligation Order, which is a result of European Union Climate Change Directives.

The Renewables Obligation Order places an obligation on licensed electricity suppliers in the UK to generate an increasing proportion of electricity from renewable sources – and the biomass industry has turned to wood to achieve targets.

If the subsidies are allowed to continue they will damage the environment, economy and threatening millions of UK and European jobs.

Wood prices will continue to rise

Kronospan warns of price rises

Kronospan warns of prices rises

One of the UK’s largest wood panel plants is warning of sustained price rises due to an unprecedented increase in raw material costs. And government subsidies to the biomass industry for burning wood are making matters worse, it says.

Kronospan’s CEO, Ludwig Scheiblreiter, is cautioning customers not to try to absorb any increase in prices. Instead distributors and retailers must pass the rises down the supply line now or face serious financial implications, because the increases are here to stay and more are expected.

All the raw materials – timber, chemicals and energy – used for wood panel production are under accelerating supply pressures, which is relentlessly pushing up prices across Europe.

Ludwig says: “This year will be critical and decisive, even without the effects of the new age of austerity. This is not a wave any of us will be able to sit out, nor will any of us be able to continue the absorption of cost increases within the supply chain.”

Subsidies – worth up to four times the current price levels of timber residues and post consumer wood waste – are being paid to the biomass industry to burn wood to create electricity. The well meaning but ill conceived legislation on the generation of renewable energy is squeezing the availability of the core raw material and increasing prices.

In addition, the main chemical used in resin for the wood panel industry process is urea. More than 90% of urea is needed as fertiliser to meet expanding worldwide demand for food. This is obviously putting pressure on supply and with crude oil up 40% the chemical industry’s price demands are rising.

Subsidies paid to the biomass industry are being funded via the cost of electricity, again pushing up price. Add to this tightening rules on carbon trading, continuing price rises in oil and gas, and the UK’s structural supply problems, and there is perpetual strain on energy demand.

Ludwig says: “The industry urgently needs to set up the right structures to secure future supply as price alone will not guarantee availability. These changes will be enormous. The UK is still slightly behind many Western European countries but, with its comparatively low share of forestry, it is catching up fast.

“In Germany and surrounding countries these raw material pressures have already led to major reductions in production capacities and price levels for panel products are up to 25% higher than the current UK levels.”

Ludwig insists there are still things the industry can do to keep price increases to a minimum. The key action is for everyone to campaign to abolish subsidies to the biomass industry for burning still useable wood. Anyone can do this by supporting the Wood Panel Industry Federation’s (WPIF) Make Wood Work campaign. For more information go to www.makewoodwork.co.uk.

The subsidies directly threaten not only Europe’s wood panel manufacturing industry but also all its associated customers, from furniture makers to the construction industry. Wood should only be burnt at the very end of its useful life cycle.

Ludwig says: “The best will survive and we’re committed to further improving our technology, products and service for the long term. Our goal is to provide all the tools the supply chain needs to compete in the global market, to replace imports, build markets abroad and keep price increases to a minimum with tight cost management and efficiency gains.”