Enviva, the world's largest producer of wood pellets for large-scale commercial energy generation, has three plants in North Carolina with a fourth opening this year. Each plant produces 500,000 tons of wood pellets which are mainly shipped overseas to the United Kingdom and European Union to be burned in former coal-fired power plants. This so-called biomass is considered by US and international policy to be renewable energy because trees can be regrown. Also, because of a disputed Kyoto Protocol provision, the carbon emissions from burning wood are not counted toward a nation's emissions output. This produces controversy on both sides of the Atlantic. Enviva says it is filling a growing market that is good for the environment and not touching natural forests. Environmentalists say Enviva is doing the opposite. These plants are also in some of North Carolina's poorest counties where there are public health concerns. Our stories will seek to examine the local and statewide issues involved with Enviva and the pellet industry at the time when climate change and climate resiliency are a rising priority.
Because of Enviva, North Carolina creates more wood pellets than any other state, according to the U.S. Industrial Pellet Association.
This series on the wood pellet industry and the different views on the role of North Carolina forests in combating climate change took six months to put together, but drew on years of experience and reporting.
For European power plants facing a continental commitment to getting off coal, biomass provided a convenient fix.
Justin Catanoso speaks with the secretary of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality.