Opinion: Green Energy Conspiracy?

– by Dr. Luis Contreras

A conspiracy is a secret plan by several parties to do something unlawful or harmful. Everyone involved has something to gain by pretending their actions are legal. Questions are discouraged and replaced by a simple code: “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” Some conspiracies remain secret for a long time, others are so obvious it’s hard to imagine who was the mastermind behind the plot.

After trying to develop a system to capture and store carbon dioxide underground (CCS), Drax’s 4,000-megawatt coal-fired power station in the U.K. aborted the failed mega-project, wasting $1.5 billion of public funds. Standing forests, giant green ecosystems, are the only known way to take CO2 out of the air using sunlight and water, releasing oxygen, and storing carbon deep in the forest soil. Forests are our best hope for survival. The treasure in the forest is not only the trees you can see from a distance but the life-sustaining world beneath the forest top soil. No trees, no soil, no water, no food, no life.

Drax could have taken out the six coal-fired power plants and built a solar farm in a short amount of time connected to the grid. Complemented with offshore wind farms, it would provide a low-cost, zero-emissions, reliable, and resilient 24/7 solution.

Instead, Drax ignored 21st-century technology and looked for something to burn: trees. The idea of burning trees from far away forests provided a very expensive, poor way to keep the 35-year-old facilities in operation, replacing coal with wood pellets.

The green conspiracy claims: a “sustainable” supply of wood and the illusion burning wood pellets is carbon-neutral.

If you have ever been near a coal-fired power plant, you see coal railroad cars approaching the plant. These open cars flip when they reach the coal yard and continue their way back to the mines in other states. Coal is a denser fuel than wood pellets; it has a higher calorific value than wood, so you need to burn more tons of pellets for the same amount of energy.

Keeping the conspiracy secret was impossible. Stumps don’t lie. When you see logging trucks full of hardwood trunks you know something is up.

Drax, Enviva, U.S. landowners, logging companies, truckers, shipping ports and shipping companies had something to gain. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” kept the Green Conspiracy alive for several years.

Forests are the source of pellet wood, not waste wood, sawdust, and other dregs. Google “Enviva logging trucks images” and you can see whole trees arriving at Enviva mills. How is burning a 100-year-old tree equivalent to planting a seed that may or not survive the first extreme flood in the new man-made climate with 406 ppm CO2 concentration in the atmosphere?

The Green Energy Conspiracy is not only about money. There are other more important reasons to “ax” Drax and stop burning.

Climate Emergency

We need all the forests standing and stop burning fossil fuels to survive. March 12, 2016, NASA’s climate report says: February 2016 has soared past all rivals as the warmest seasonally adjusted month in more than a century of global recordkeeping. February ran 1.35°C (2.43°F) above the 1951-1980 global average for the month.

To survive, we must keep all forests standing and immediately stop burning fossil fuels. On Saturday, March 12, NASA announced shocking climate news: February 2016 was the warmest seasonally adjusted month in more than a century. NASA’s analysis showed that February ran 1.35°C (2.43°F) above the 1951-1980 global average for the month. With the GOP opposing the EPA Clean Power Plan and no actions taken since the December 12, 2015, UN Climate Agreement, the outlook looks grim. “The future ain’t what it used to be,” said Yogi Berra.

Public health hazards of burning wood pellets

Burning wood creates toxic, deadly smoke with carcinogenic components similar to cigarette smoke: fine particulate matter (PM 2.5), carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and dioxin. Dioxin is chlorine gone wild known as Agent Orange by the military. Dioxin is 2,3,7,8-Tetrachlorodibenzodioxin (TCDD), a contaminant in the 2,4,5-T component of Agent Orange.

Let’s do a simple experiment. Get one cup of salt, go outside your house, and throw it up in the air as hard as you can. Write down your observations. Next, get one cup of flour, and repeat the experiment. This is what you may find. You will probably find one hundred percent of the salt and flour will come down. You could not get all of it back in the cup, but the mass lands somewhere.

Size matters. A grain of salt is 300 microns, and flour is about 60 microns. Wood smoke is made up of tiny particulate matter (PM) invisible to the naked eye, most 2.5 microns in diameter. When you breathe, PM goes into your lungs and brain. Like cigarette smoke, PM is highly toxic and studies have found there is no safe level of exposure to PM. When you burn wood, the particulates found in the smoke have to land somewhere.

The social cost of pellet mills

Pellet mills are frequently sited in low-income, minority communities, targeted with the pretense of providing jobs. This is a form of racial discrimination, a price paid by poor communities targeted knowing there will be no complaints. Truth be told, most jobs are indirect: logging the forests, driving logging trucks and other low-pay, no-benefits occupations. Mills are run with 30 to 50 people with special skills, not always local talent.

The noise, dust, road congestion and wear of hundreds of 40-ton logging trucks making daily deliveries to the mills are ignored. The social cost of living near pellet mills is grossly underestimated on paper, but real for the people and tourists visiting the area.

Long supply chains have many inventories and buffers to keep the flow of pellets. Additional trees are cut just to keep the pellet pipeline flowing. How can shipping forests 4,000 miles away, burned to power the U.K. grid be better than using free sunlight and off-shore wind?

Stayed tuned for a follow-up story on two new monster pellet mills under construction in Arkansas, Zilkha Biomass and Highland Pellets with a combined export capacity of 1.3 million tons of pellets per year. Details of the second wave of the green energy conspiracy read like a John Grisham story: The U.K. National Grid and Zilkha Biomass selling “clean heat” pellets, are the main investors of Clean Line Energy, five high voltage direct current transmission lines at a total cost of over $10 Billion, trying to use federal eminent domain to take private property in many states. Even the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has been part of the Clean Line conspiracy.

Greedy conspiracies are doomed. Honest business is sustainable, everyone wins. Conspiring to pervert the course of justice has dire consequences with big green penalties for all involved.

Dr. Luis Contreras is president and founder of Lean Strategies Group, an advisory executive firm, helping organizations discover simple, customer-driven, sustainable, lean solutions.


  • Sasquatchlunchbox

    British anthracite was held in pride. This use of trees for Drax is a fraud. Indeed it is time to use local resources sustain-ably. Like the author says solar and off shore wind as a 24/7 replacement to Drax. Distributed solar, energy efficiency, load management and conservation are even better than building anything utility scale. Abandoning artificial schemes of carbon sequestration made sense – destroying real carbon sinks has not. Local manged forest use by locals may be sustainable and beneficial.


    • Please tell us more about the difference between distributed and industrial energy.


      • Here is my take: traditional utilities have been power generators, owners of transmission lines, and service providers. Everyone else is a residential or business ratepayer.

        In the days of bulk generation and long distance transmission, say before from 1900 to 1990, there were no other technologies available. The sweet spot for utilities is building high voltage transmission lines, a poorly designed mess called the power grid, taking private property by force. The grid is used to sell power at high priced markets generated at low-cost states without environmental protection. Arkansas, for example, uses subsidized, low-cost coal from Wyoming mines, and polluting power plants, to export over 30 percent of the electrical energy.

        Rooftop solar changed the game giving regular folks the choice to generate some or all their power needs at home. Offshore wind farms sited near the load, are another example of distributed generation.

        Wood pellets are used as “clean coal” to power the U.K. grid, and unless EPA excludes them from the list of renewables they will be used to power the U.S. grid!


      • Sasquatchlunchbox

        First there is the energy efficiency, conservation and load management that are coat saving and reduce carbon emissions most cost effectively. These are priority ahead of any new generation.

        After that I think what you will find is that local solutions are better in many ways. Local solutions will provide the best carbon reductions. Impacts and benefits will be proportional (commensurate) to use; with power produced closer to where it is consumed (or vice versa) socio-economics will be more fair. Local production will be most reliable and resilient.

        Utility scale with schemes in the US to build more through-state high-capacity transmission (plus grid hardening) is not carbon reducing. The scheme intends for increased consumption and puts energy efficiency last. It also serves the debt-industry and the established cartels best. It is beguiling and greenwashes the scheme with wonderful PR of giant plains windmills. On the other hand, in the US ‘mid-continent’ Manitoba Hydro seems to be avoiding public attention; a dirty secret with so much lost – including forest; great environmental impacts.

        When we talk about green or clean, we need to be talking about local too.

        There you have some of my opinion. Thanks for asking.


  • The importance of soil health continues to be overlooked in the woodlot management field just as it has been in conventional agriculture. Unfortunately, the “greenwashed” woody-biomass industry is speeding-up soil degradation and missing the carbon benefits that result from low-impact forest management.


    • Sasquatchlunchbox

      Persons may not realize that it is more than a tree or trees that are taken; flora and fauna have relationship. An ecosystem is impacted. It takes so long for topsoil to develop.

      Then in some places, what once was managed forest is being developed for other uses like golf courses, subdivisions, department stores. So, which is a better carbon sink? Can there be a place for combined cycle power plant, rocket mass heaters and masonry heaters? Could there be a marriage with sustainable forest management?


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