Sunday 18 April 2021

Biomass for Dutch power plants is depleting protected Baltic forests

Wood shavings used for biomass Photo: Depositphotos.nl

Wood chips imported to the Netherlands from the Baltic states contains timber from protected woodland, investigative new platform Investico has found.

The wood pellets are used by Dutch power plants to produce electricity which is classified as greener than coal or gas-fired power.

The Netherlands bought some hundred million pellets last year which, according to the sustainability certificates, are ‘an inevitable by-product’ of woodland management and therefore eligible for subsidies.

Estonian officials and export company Graanul Invest told the platform that complete trees from small wooded areas fall under the same heading, meaning they can be exported legally. However, local environmental organisations say the export of wood pellets is depleting local forests, including those that belong to the protected woodland network Natura 2000.

In a recently published report, the organisations claim that woodland twice the size of Amsterdam is cut down for electricity production in Estonia and Lithuania every year. ‘Intensive forestry has an important negative impact on climate,’ the report said.

In addition the Dutch are failing to monitor if the Graanul Invest wood pellets are sustainable, the organisations said, and should go to the areas in question to check the origin of the pellets.

Dutch biomass plants, which are supposed to help comply with EU climate goals, have been given over €3.5bn in subsidies in the last seven years. They have, however, become deeply controversial because of longer-term damage to the environment.

Critics are saying the government have not included worldwide effects, such as deforestation in the Baltic states, into its calculations. In July the Dutch government’s senior advisory body SER recommended that subsidies for the use of biomass in power stations be phased out quickly, a point the government later agreed on.

The Netherlands has also been under fire for importing wood chips from the US to burn in power plants.

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