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How Europe’s green energy push resulted in higher coal and wood consumption

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Politics,Beltway Confidential,Sean Higgins,Energy Department

The Wall Street Journal has a lengthy piece up Tuesday on how the European Union’s drive to get all of its energy from renewable resources resulted in a boom for American loggers, who are cutting trees at an accelerated pace to meet Europe’s needs.

The Journal reports:

[I]n Europe…  governments are trying to reduce fossil-fuel use and carbon-dioxide emissions. Under pressure, some of the Continent’s coal-burning power plants are switching to wood.

But Europe doesn’t have enough forests to chop for fuel, and in those it does have, many restrictions apply. So Europe’s power plants are devouring wood from the U.S., where forests are bigger and restrictions fewer.

This dynamic is bringing jobs to some American communities hard hit by mill closures. It is also upsetting conservationists, who say cutting forests for power is hardly an environmental plus.

What happened was that Europe ran headlong into the fact that the renewable resources that environmentalists favor — wind and solar — do not generate nearly enough power to meet the continent’s needs. So, they had to look elsewhere:

The push began in 2007, when the Commission set a goal, by 2020, of reducing Europe’s greenhouse-gas emissions to 20% below their 1990 level. It also set a goal of moving Europe to 20% renewable energy by 2020.

Solar and wind couldn’t meet the latter goal, policy makers recognized. They said wood qualified as a renewable energy source as long as it came from forests that would grow back. Emissions from burning wood contain less of certain chemicals, such as sulfur, than coal smoke.

European countries devised a system of awarding credits to companies that generate electricity from renewable sources. They then can sell their credits to electricity suppliers.

This follows news from earlier this month that Europe was also importing American coal at record-breaking numbers because the carbon credit system mentioned above has collapsed. That has put the price of carbon-based fuels at rock-bottom levels, making coal importation much cheaper for Europe.

So, in short, a system pushed by environmentalists to force countries to adopt green energy sources has resulted in even higher use of carbon-based fuels. This was, mind you, the very system that one-time presidential candidate and current Secretary of State John Kerry was urging the U.S. to adopt to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

 

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