Dear Energy Companies, We Can Keep the Lights on Without Destroying Our Forests

Written by Claire Morgenstern

The forests of the southeastern United States are home to black bears, millions of songbirds and countless species of plants and animals found nowhere else on Earth. They’ve taken thousands of years to develop into the magnificent wildlands they are today.

Now, energy companies are clearcutting vast swaths of those irreplaceable native forests and burning them for fuel.

NRDC is fighting for an end to this outrageous and destructive practice. It’s critical that as many of us as possible make our voices heard in defense of our endangered forests.

Torching forests for energy not only creates more global warming pollution than coal, gas and oil, it wipes out the very trees that capture the carbon pollution spewed by power plants. In other words, it’s a double whammy for the environment.

Here’s how it works: Enviva, the South’s biggest wood pellet manufacturer, cuts down whole trees and grinds them up into wood chips and pellets. Those chips and pellets are then sold to electric utilities — Virginia-based Dominion Power and Britain’s Drax Group are the primary players — to fuel power plants and produce electricity.

Demand for pellets only continues to grow as utilities ramp up their plans for the large-scale burning of trees. Drax now plans to consume seven million tons of wood annually — equivalent to burning a forest four times the size of Rhode Island and Dominion recently announced it would convert three of its Virginia power plants from coal to wood fuel.

To feed this skyrocketing demand, both in the U.S. and in Europe, Enviva has announced plans to double its production of wood pellets in the coming years. In fact, the American South is now the world’s largest exporter of pellets, with exports from southern ports growing 70 percent in the last year alone.

This all boils down to one urgent question: How much more destruction can our sensitive wetland forests take? They’re already under stress from industrial logging for wood and paper. With Enviva accelerating production, “the additional pressure from the energy industry could be more than these ecosystems can bear,” says Debbie Hammel, head of NRDC’s Our Forests Arent Fuel campaign.

And at what cost? More sustainable energy alternatives like mill and agricultural waste for pellets and true renewables like solar, wind and geothermal energy will all help keep the lights on without destroying our forests in the process. Energy companies should be investing in these solutions.

We can’t let a few corporations plunder some of America’s last and greatest wild places. NRDC is mobilizing a nationwide outcry to escalate pressure on the CEOs of Enviva, Drax and Dominion to stop burning our forests for fuel and invest in clean energy. Please do your part by sending your own message telling the energy giants to stop burning our forests for fuel right now.

Photo Credit: Robert L. Anderson, USDA Forest Service


Sewing K.
.3 years ago

Your articles are very well written and unique. clean diesel

Fred h
Fred Hoekstra5 years ago

Thank you NRDC, for Sharing this

Jim N.
James N5 years ago

You have to click 'make our voices heard' in the third paragraph to find the petition.

Andre Yokers
Andre Yokers5 years ago

Yes, renewables, please!

Grace Adams
Grace Adams5 years ago

Each 100MW of enhanced geothermal system 260 billion metric tons of CO2 can store in each set of hot rock reservoirs which will last about 6 years. On average enhanced geothermal system will use 15 sets of hot rock reservoirs storing 3.9 trillion metric tons. Since it takes 150MW project to keep one drilling rig and crew busy, figure 5.85 trillion metric tons for one 150MW enhanced geothermal system over 90 years. I hope other 4.15 trillion metric will be stored in bio-char by-product of algal bio-diesel. That leaves 20 trillion tons of carbon in fossil fuel plus 3 trillion tons of carbon in 4 trillion tons of methane already leaking from thawing tundra and unstable seabed deposits mostly near mouths of large rivers. Methane can be collected with dredges that work like giant vacuum cleaners. Coal seems to be selling for $60 to $70 a short ton about 12,500 Btu, which I guess, is about $85 a metric ton of carbon content. Gas sells at $3.60/Btu at the end of September 2013. Wikipedia says 43.1MMBtu/short ton = 47.31MMBtu/metric ton. So about $170/ton of natural gas 75% of which is carbon; $240/ton of carbon content of natural gas. It seems cheaper to buy coal as mineral rights and clean up after natural gas with Global Thermostat and enhanced geothermal systems—if you can avoid leaks. If Peabody Energy, Archer Coal, and any other too big to fail coal firm owns a drilling rig, it might make sense to ask them to invest in drilling and fracking enhanced geothermal

Dimitris Dallis
Past Member 5 years ago

Thank you for the article.

Jonathan Harper
Jonathan Harper5 years ago


Berenice Guedes de Sá

Signed!! Thanks for sharing!!

Laura Saxon
.5 years ago

Great article. Thanks for sharing.

Janet C.
Past Member 5 years ago

With so many alternative energy sources now available to us on this precious earth there is absolutely no reason why we should burn wood or petroleum.