There must be something wrong here as the EU, the British Government and the Welsh Assembly have all declared these power stations to be zero carbon, and the EU even subsidises them substantially to encourage them.  The Welsh Assembly rests 70% of it carbon emissions target on the new 350MW chip station in Swansea.  Is the truth stranger than the fiction?

There are three things to consider:

I.            The net energy released by the wood after taking account of the energy used to get it to the firing chamber

II.            The net carbon effect – how much less carbon is emitted and

III.            How sustainable is this energy source?

As this is a blog, there isn’t room for detail so the full White Paper is to be found on http://tranquilityhouses.org.uk/wordpress/2010/05/wood-chip-power-stations-white-paper/ but we can summarize the findings.  There is, though, a major factor to be considered which is that the UK imports about 83% of all the timber it needs for all the products that require timber, so every additional ton has to be imported and that is a fact. And as Europe doesn’t have lots spare – it must be imported from across the oceans.

I.          Taking into account ALL the energy used from felling the trees to delivering the wood chips to the combustion chamber (a complex set of calculations) at best there is a small surplus and at worst the net energy could be negative.  So all or nearly all the energy in the tree is consumed preparing it and getting it here.

  1. For reasons explained in the White Paper, the carbon balance is undoubtedly zero – which means it is as carbon effective as a gas powered station – even before the huge carbon emissions from the soils in the original forest.  But the carbon emissions from soils swamp those from wood or gas, so the net carbon situation is that hugely more carbon is given off.  The Swansea Power Station will ADD to Welsh carbon, not reduce it.  Difficult for them.
  2. Global timber demand is already more than can be sustainably cropped, so adding hugely to demand necessarily increases forest destruction.

Due exclusively to the EU subsidies in Europe the EU is embarked on a big building programme of these Stations, so by definition this WILL involve the rapid deforestation of the world’s rainforests.  Anyone who argues against this is arguing against logic and the facts.  For the sake of sanity these power stations must either not be completed or be closed down.  There will be some interesting legal and political developments, and we must ask the political systems how it is they didn’t understand all this before bringing the subsidies into law?

Mike Hillard

The full analysis is to be found on http://tranquilityhouses.org.uk/wordpress/2010/05/wood-chip-power-stations-white-paper/