This past July, in the wake of an historic vote by the United Kingdom to exit the European Union, PACE wrote about the role that wood energy from the United States could play in the future of Britain. Not only could wood energy help to satisfy the British need for a low-carbon future, we argued, but an increased focus on wood energy supplies could create thousands of jobs here at home.
“In Europe, demand for biomass sources like wood pellets has grown in recent years due to carbon emissions mandates instituted by the EU. This has led European nations such as the U.K. to seek out renewable energy sources like carbon-neutral wood energy,” PACE wrote in July. “And while Brexit may limit foreign energy imports to the U.K., the wood energy supply from Alabama and other southeastern states will continue, helping to fuel both British and local stateside economies.”
The good news is that those economic benefits come with environmental benefits too. A responsible approach to the U.S. wood energy industry won’t endanger forests or negatively affect the ecosystem in general. In fact, the opposite is true. Purposing wood for energy increases investment in forest stewardship. A study by Duke University and North Carolina State University shows exactly that; increasing demand by the UK and EU for wood pellets leads to more forests, as well as more investments in healthy forests. That means the use of wood energy is actually protecting the very same areas and regions from which it is typically sourced.
Those potential benefits were illustrated recently by Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson. In a September letter to British MP Greg Clark, who serves as the U.K. Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Governor Hutchinson explained that a growing wood pellet industry in Arkansas can help the UK achieve its energy and climate goals, as well as increase investments in sustainable forestry in his state. Recently, a wood pellet project in Arkansas led to a $200 million capital investment and the creation of sixty-eight new full-time jobs with an economic benefit from the plant estimated at $77 million each year. Hutchinson also describes the environment benefit of developments like these.
“This industry is important to Arkansas because it provides another incentive to forest landowners to sustainably manage their forests,” Hutchinson explains. “By clearing out lower-grade wood fiber that is smaller, misshapen, or otherwise unmerchantable, higher-value trees for industries like sawtimber are able to grow and thrive…All of this is done in accordance with forestry management best practices and guidelines that have kept the forests in the United States thriving and growing for decades.”
As Hutchinson points out, wood pellet producers can use wood fiber that is currently of little use to produce a beneficial good for our trade partners in Europe. The governor sent a similar letter, underscoring many of the same points, to Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission. Juncker is the most powerful office holder in the European Union.
“Targets like the European Union’s 20-20-20 plan for renewable energy, carbon reductions and energy efficiency are aggressive, but necessary,” Hutchinson wrote to President Juncker. “I seek to continue to help you achieve those goals by providing sustainable wood energy abroad, which in turn make the precious natural resources in Arkansas flourish for the generations and centuries to come.”
Clearly, as Governor Hutchinson describes in his letters to European officials, governments on both sides of the Atlantic have much to gain from wood energy. From a climate standpoint, British and European leaders can use wood energy from the U.S. to reach their emissions targets. Back home, the new market for wood energy can create jobs and capital investment while helping our forests grow with an eye toward sustainability, health, and value. Let’s hope that more policy makers recognize this reality and continue to support the opportunities that exist for wood energy between American and European partners.