Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Carrying wood pellets to Newcastle?

Well, Selby actually.

Bloomberg reports on an astounding and historic energy development--the U.K.'s largest coal-fired power plant (and largest carbon producers) will shortly be refitted to burn biomass and theoretically be carbon neutral.

The change is astounding and historic because of its location in Northern England, not far from the rich coal fields that fed the U.K.'s (and initially the world's) industrial revolution.

If "King Coal" is threatened by renewable energy projects near its original throne, it's threatened everywhere.

Coal's loss may be the environment's gain. The refitted biomass units will emit significantly less carbon than the existing coal units. Also, the biomass is renewable. Biomass releases carbon when it is burned but takes an equivalent amount of carbon in as it is regrown.

However, the potential benefits come with a giant asterisk, involving a huge and uncertain now versus later proposition. The carbon is released almost instantaneously and takes years to recapture. Also, the units will require an enormous amount of biomass--about 7.5 million tons or 3 million acres of trees each year, according to the article.

Some of the biomass can be supplied through waste materials from other lumbering operations, but much more would still be required.

These requirements might mean an valuable jobs and export opportunity for commercial foresters in North Carolina and throughout North America.