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

Send your letter to the editor via email to news@summerlandreview.com. Please included your first and last name, address, and phone number.
LETTER: Wear a mask for the benefit of all

If this virus latches onto one of your cells, it takes over the RNA and DNA and makes you sick

santa.
Morning Start: Santa Claus has an official pilot’s license

Your morning start for Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020

Christmas amid a global pandemic will be a first for everyone. (Pexels)
POLL: How will you be spending the holidays this year?

The pandemic is sure to make this holiday season unlike any we’ve seen before

A woman wearing a face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 uses walking sticks while walking up a hill, in New Westminster, B.C., on Sunday, November 29, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Interior Health reports 83 more COVID-19 infections overnight

46 cases are now associated with a COVID-19 community cluster in Revelstoke

Mona Fortier, Minister of Middle Class Prosperity, speaks with North Okanagan-Shuswap MP Mel Arnold during a Greater Vernon Chamber of Commerce breakfast Monday, March 2 at Eatology. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
Despite $381.6 B deficit, better days are coming: Minister of Middle-Class Prosperity

“We want Canadians to know that we’ve got their backs”

A tongue-in-cheek message about wearing a face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 on a sign outside a church near Royal Columbia Hospital, in New Westminster, B.C., on Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection count climbs back up to 656

20 more people in hospital, active cases still rising

Vernon North Okanagan RCMP are looking for the next of kin after a member of the public reported finding cremated human remains off the BX Falls trail on Oct. 15, 2020. (RCMP)
Cremated human remains found off Vernon hiking trail

RCMP seek to find next of kin, release photo to public to help ID

A happy, well-fed bear cub plays in the grass in northern B.C. (John Marriott photo)
Bear witness: Shuswap’s John Marriott offers intimate look at black, polar and grizzly bears

Sarah Elmeligi and Marriott’s What Bears Teach Us explores bear/human co-existence

A teacher places the finishing touches on the welcome sign at Hunter’s Glen Junior Public School which is part of the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) during the COVID-19 pandemic in Scarborough, Ont., on Sept. 14, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Hindsight 2020: How do you preserve a year many Canadians would rather forget?

Figuring out how to preserve the story of the pandemic poses a series of challenges

Haley Callison. (Facebook photo)
Former B.C. pro hockey player frustrated with COVID-deniers after horrific bout with virus

Haleigh Callison hopes people will follow precautions and tone down the rhetoric

A man stands in the window of an upper floor condo in Vancouver on March 24, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Change made to insurance for B.C. condo owners amid rising premiums

Council CEO Janet Sinclair says the change will mean less price volatility

The Walking Curriculum gets students outside and connecting with nature. (Amanda Peterson/Special to S.F. Examiner)
‘Walking Curriculum’ crafted by SFU professor surges in popularity

The outdoor curriculum encourages students to connect with the natural world

Brent Ross poses with his dog Jack who died over the weekend after asphyxiating on a ball. Ross hopes his experience serves as a cautionary tale to other dog owners. (Contributed)
Salmon Arm man warns others after dog dies from choking on a ball

Brent Ross grieving the sudden loss of Jack, a healthy, seven-year-old chocolate lab

This year’s Candlelight Vigil, United Against Violence Against Women, on Dec. 6, 2020 will not be in person at the campuses of Okanagan College due to COVID-19, but people will be able to gather online to watch a video presentation and light a candle in remembrance. (Image contributed)
Violence against women in North Okanagan-Shuswap to be remembered online

Participants in virtual vigil Dec. 6 asked to light a candle and post photo on social media

Most Read