Wood Pellet Production Inching Toward Chesapeake Bay Watershed

A growing industry that’s harvesting woody biomass from forests for energy generation could gain a toehold soon in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Like virtually every other form of energy, it’s also generating intense debate about its environmental impact. Biomass from trees is already used to generate a small amount of power in the United States; […]

A growing industry that’s harvesting woody biomass from forests for energy generation could gain a toehold soon in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Like virtually every other form of energy, it’s also generating intense debate about its environmental impact.

Biomass from trees is already used to generate a small amount of power in the United States; wood chips generate electricity at several small plants owned by Dominion, the Virginia-based energy company. (The term “biomass” generally refers to any plant material used for fuel. Woody biomass is made from trees.)

The big demand for pellets made from woody biomass, though, comes from utilities in Europe and the United Kingdom that are trying to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels. This is driving the harvesting of low-value trees and “slash,” or debris left by logging, in the Southeastern United States, from just south of the Bay watershed to the state of Mississippi.

A spokesman for the nation’s largest wood pellet manufacturer, Enviva Partners LP, said that the company has no plans to move farther north, but added that “it’s not outside the realm of possibility.” Based in Bethesda, MD, Enviva has a pellet manufacturing plant in Southampton, VA, about 50 miles south of the Bay watershed. It owns and is using a deepwater port in Chesapeake, VA, which is also just outside the watershed.

The company is planning to build another pellet plant in Virginia, south and west of the Southampton plant, said Enviva spokesman Kent Jenkins. Three Dominion-owned power stations in Southside Virginia and one just south of the North Carolina border together burn 100 tractor-trailer loads daily of wood chips and other biomass taken from nearby forests, said Ernie Reed, president of Wild Virginia, a nonprofit advocacy group.

From the Bay Journal: http://www.bayjournal.com/article/booming_wood_pellet_production_inching_toward_watershed_forests

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