North Carolina’s destructive wood pellet energy industry expanded rapidly during Governor Cooper’s first term in office.
North Carolina now exports more wood pellets overseas to be burned for energy than any other state in the nation.
The Cooper Administration approved the construction of 2 new wood pellet facilities and the massive expansion of 3 existing wood pellet facilities. The biomass industry is having a huge and unaccounted for impact on North Carolina’s forests, our climate, and the well-being of North Carolina residents. Yet the rapid expansion of this industry continues without any meaningful public or policy discourse.
- North Carolina has 4 industrial-scale wood pellet production facilities. Enviva operates production plants in Northampton County, Hertford County, Sampson County, and Richmond County. Active Energy Renewable Power attempted to open a 5th plant in Robeson County, but the plant was canceled after community opposition and research revealed many violations. Enviva also operates an export facility at the port of Wilmington.
- European power stations burn 2.5 million tons of North Carolina wood pellets per year.
- The wood pellet industry has received at least $9 million in subsidies from North Carolina.
- The NC Clean Energy Plan (October, 2019) states: “Currently, the wood pellet industry does not contribute to NC’s energy generation portfolio and does not advance NC’s clean energy economy. The wood pellets harvested from NC increase the state’s carbon output during logging, processing and transportation and are burned for fuel elsewhere, mostly Europe. There are currently no known plans for the industry to become a contributor to NC’s energy sector in the coming years” (p. 25). Yet the Cooper Administration continues to approve permits for the wood pellet export industry.
The science is clear – biomass is taking us backwards, not forwards, on climate.
Biomass makes us more vulnerable to climate change effects, like floods and hurricanes. Our elected officials must reject any growth of the biomass industry in our state.
15 Reasons Why NC Leaders Should Reject the Biomass Industry
Forest & Wildlife Impacts
- The wood pellet industry is responsible for clearcutting 60,000 acres of NC forests per year. That’s 164 acres per day.
- Since the wood pellet industry began operating a decade ago, they have clear cut 320,296 acres of NC forests.
- According to the Forest Service, North Carolina lost about 70,000 acres of forests from 2015-2018.
- Industrial forest practices are a major threat to biodiversity in North Carolina. The fragmented landscape of clearcuts, young timber plantations, and dense logging road networks that sustain these practices do not support many of the fish, wildlife, and plants that depend on large contiguous tracks of native and old growth forests.
- The growth of industrial tree plantations to feed the global wood pellet market poses a serious threat to North Carolina’s climate change resiliency because they make the effects of floods, droughts, heat waves, storms, and disease more severe.
- There are carbon emissions associated with logging, production, and combustion of wood pellets.
- The burning of wood pellets produces 50% more greenhouse gases than an equivalent amount of coal.
- Logging for wood pellets reduces a forests’ ability to store carbon. After a forest has been logged, there is a “carbon debt” on that bare ground until new trees grow to restore the lost carbon. Scientists estimate that it takes an average of 90 years to repay the carbon debt. 90 years of carbon payback is not a solution when we need action on climate change within the next decade.
- From 2013 through the end of 2020, Enviva used wood from 300,000 acres of NC forests. This has released 28 million tons of CO2 e during harvest, transport, production, and combustion. The greenhouse gas impact is equivalent to an additional 14 million tons of coal burned. That’s 6.5 coal plants operated for a full year.
- Logging and wood products are the third largest emitter of greenhouse gas emissions in North Carolina, just behind electricity and transportation. Yet the state’s Greenhouse Gas Inventory does not account for emissions from logging.
Environmental Justice & Community Impacts
- Environmental Justice (EJ) communities are communities below the state median income with at least 25% BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) populations.
- Overall, EJ communities are twice as likely to have a wood biomass pellet production facility than other communities. In North Carolina, every single wood pellet production facility is located in an environmental justice community.
- All 5 counties where wood pellet facilities are sited and permitted – Hertford, Northampton, Robeson, Richmond, and Sampson – are Tier 1 counties. They are among the lowest income counties in NC with low environmental and health rankings. They are all environmental justice communities. The percentage of People of Color in the 5 census tracts where the facilities are located includes rates from 55.4% to 90.5% with an average of 64.5%. The poverty level within the 5 census tracts includes rates from 15.4% to 40% with an average of 26.8%.
- Wood pellet production facilities release tons of soot and other harmful air pollutants that can trigger asthma and heart attacks and have been linked to cancer.
- Public health researchers have found that residents in polluted neighborhoods are more likely to experience the worst effects of COVID-19. COVID-19 death rates have been highest in Black, Latinx, and Native American communities, who are often exposed to the highest levels of pollution.
Take Action: Solutions for our Forests, Climate, & Communities
- First and foremost, the Cooper Administration must halt the growth and expansion of the wood pellet industry.
- North Carolina should end all subsidies for the wood pellet industry and invest in the outdoors recreation industry. Already, North Carolina’s recreation industry generates 2.4 times more value than forest products, has created over 200,000 more jobs than the forest products industry, and contributes a billion more dollars in annual tax revenue.
- Our NC legislators should pass legislation that increases protections for forests, such as managing state lands as carbon reserves and significantly expanding riparian and wetland forest buffer zones in state best management practices.
Take Action Now: Protect North Carolina’s Forests and Communities