The Dogwood Alliance, an Asheville, North Carolina based organization with a record of calling for an end to the forest products industry – this week published questionable claims about North Carolina’s sustainable bioenergy industry.
Here’s a breakdown of Dogwood’s claims, as well as the facts:
Claim #1: The Dogwood Alliance says that North Carolina is “ground zero for forest destruction,” and that forests are “being cut down at an alarming rate…to be burned for dirty biomass power.”
First, North Carolina forests are growing, not shrinking. As North Carolina State professors Fred Cubbage and Robert Abt explain, “the carbon bottom line is that forests at a regional scale in North Carolina are sustainable. Forest volume and carbon are increasing.”
Moreover, the wood bioenergy industry actually expands forest size by strengthening the market for wood products, which incentivizes landowners to plant more trees and disincentivizes them from converting their land to more carbon-intensive uses, such as development or short-rotation agriculture. Independent studies from researchers at the University of Georgia, Landcare Research and Ohio State University, and the Society of American Foresters all find that wood bioenergy demand does not cause deforestation, but instead strengthens forest acreage.
Second, wood bioenergy is not “dirty” – it is one of the most effective tools we have at replacing dangerous fossil fuels like coal with a low-carbon, renewable alternative. Bioenergy is included by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in all pathways to mitigate global climate change. According to a recent report from researchers at the University of Georgia and the US Forest Service, wood bioenergy has “considerably lower” carbon intensity than coal-based electricity. They estimate than wood bioenergy yields a “77% to 99% carbon savings for power generation compared to its fossil fuel alternative.” This results in “high carbon savings in the biopower sector compared to fossil fuel.” This echoes similar findings from researchers at the University of Illinois.
Claim #2: The Dogwood Alliance claims that North Carolina’s “industrial logging” industry is the “third most carbon intensive sector” in the state.
The Dogwood Alliance’s statistics come from a report they commissioned from the Oregon-based Center for Sustainable Economy. In September, Future Forests + Jobs analyzed this report and found it to be highly misleading, providing a false portrayal of the forest products industry, its practices, and the state of forests in North Carolina. An independent review of this report from the National Council for Air and Stream Improvement (NCASI), a nonprofit that provides scientific research about the forest products industry, found the Center for Sustainable Economy analysis to be full of “analytical errors and significant omissions and oversights.” You can read a detailed listing of the issues with their analysis here.
Claim #3: The Dogwood Alliance says that the expansion of the wood bioenergy industry in North Carolina “will mean tens of thousands more acres of forests cut down each year.”
The Dogwood Alliance provides no citations for this claim. As noted above, the wood bioenergy industry expands forests by providing landowners the incentives to plant more trees. Moreover, a report released in December 2019 from a European consortium including Wageningen University & Research in The Netherlands demonstrated that wood bioenergy from the US is sustainable, and that the US bioenergy industry can double in size while maintaining its commitment to sustainability.