Locals might know Pinnacle Renewable Energy for producing home heating pellets from Western Canadian wood. Pinnacle also pelletizes Alabama’s short-rotation red pine forests. Likely less known is Pinnacle placing 3rd globally for pellet production, and that much of their pellets replace coal at power plants. Pellets are not as energy-rich as coal. This amounts to killing and burning many trees that should be (amongst a multiplicity of other local and global benefits) both pumping atmospheric CO2 into living soil systems and trapping it in their wood. Recently C.B.C. broadcast that Drax Group acquired Pinnacle to help supply 8% of the UK’s energy-partially by substituting pellets for coal.
This substitution, called biomass electrical generation, has been endorsed by the United Nations and the EU as a clean alternative to coal, and it is… sort of… for Europe’s polluted coal-burning areas. Biomass has even been called carbon neutral. It isn’t. Not even close. It is apparently pretty much as bad as coal for carbon loss when deforestation (done here) is acknowledged.
Coal has a bad reputation. Biomass sounds a lot nicer. This shell game/greenwashing by lobbyists has been bought by our global leaders. Heck, even The Sierra Club and 350.org endorse the substitution! Or they did. And then they crunched the numbers. Now, both groups strongly oppose it, and so should we. This recent acquisition potentially sends huge swaths of our forests to be burned in England, destroying whole ecosystems. This deal is especially bad news because the potential of this disturbing trend to increase in our backyard is a little too real.
On a related front, Canfor has plans to transfer a huge timber license to Peak Renewables. Peak plans to build Canada’s largest pellet plant at the Fort Nelson location of Canfor’s former mills (which have been closed for over a decade). The Fort Nelson Annual Allowable Cut was nearly doubled by Provincial authorities in mid-2019 since Canfor hadn’t been cutting. The inconvenient truth here is that that region also holds one of the largest intact original growth systems in the province, much of which should be protected, while this plan stands to smoke 100 square km per year to the atmosphere.
The key to B.C.’s future forest economics is in understanding the true value of our intact forest ecosystems. The myth that our forests are renewable after large-scale clearcutting is a sham that is easily debunked with simple science if our policymakers would only heed it. Tree farms might be renewable, in a sense, but they will never become the healthy ecosystems that have withstood innumerable tests since time immemorial. We owe it to future generations to rethink this.
Neither of these pellet schemes are done deals, but it will take intense local pressure to effectively eliminate these imminent threats to B.C.’s forest ecosystems. Our future forest resiliency depends on you. Call or write your local representatives to show your concern about the Pinnacle/Drax deal, and the Canfor/Peak transfer plan.