Wood Pellet Industry Takes More Hits

North Carolina’s biomass energy industry, which produces wood pellets for power plant fuel, took more hits last week.

First, the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) released a new report (PDF) documenting the industry’s environmentally destructive impacts. The study shows that 23 facilities in the South currently produce these pellets, with plans for 11 more. Hardwood forests in proximity to those facilities are disproportionately clearcut, due to these plants’ demand for wood to be processed into fuel pellets. Those forests are normally a sink for carbon storage, but that stored carbon is released to the atmosphere when the trees are cut down and burned for fuel.

“The biomass energy industry turns trees into wood pellets and then burns them for power at utility scale. Biomass companies falsely tout this process as clean energy, but burning trees for power can emit more carbon pollution than burning coal, and the industry causes long-lasting damage to forests and wildlife,” said SELC’s news release.

Second, one of the industry’s notorious problem sites, Active Energy’s Lumberton plant, is being shut down and sold to a real estate development group. Even though Active Energy never made a single pellet for export in North Carolina, it managed to get cited for illegally modifying its engineering plans and emissions estimates in violation of its air quality permit. It was also the target of citizen complaints that the plant illegally discharged PFAS-contaminated water into the Lumber River.

“We’re relieved and happy that today marks an end to plans for a new wood pellet facility, which would have meant more water and air pollution for a community already burdened by this site,” said SELC attorney Heather Hillaker. “We look forward to working with the new owners to address existing contamination at the site. Today is a good step forward for the Lumber River and the many people in Lumberton and Robeson County who depend on it.”

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