The world’s largest wood pellet fuel manufacturer Enviva Holdings, established $5 million, 10-year program that it says is designed to protect tens of thousands of acres of bottomland forests in northeast North Carolina and southeast Virginia. It will also help shield Enviva from environmental critics, such as the Natural Resources Defense Council, who say the company’s use of forests for fuel threatens the environment.
The Enviva Forest Conservation Fund will focus on about 35 North Carolina and Virginia counties that include about 6 million acres of forests of all types. Of this total, about 20 percent are bottomland forests – low-lying, marshy areas near rivers and streams that are home to tree species such as cypress, gum and oak. Many of these bottomlands are in the Albemarle Sound drainage basin along the Roanoke, Chowan, Meherrin, Nottoway and Blackwater rivers.
Enviva Holdings, LP says it is the world’s largest producer of wood pellets, a renewable and sustainable energy source used to generate electricity and heat. Its subsidiaries own and operate six plants in the southeastern United States, employing 600 to produce about 2.2 million metric tons of wood pellets annually. These shipped mostly to power plants in the United Kingdom and Europe that previously were fueled by coal, enabling them to reduce their carbon footprint by about 80 percent.
These conversions of large coal-burning power plants to wood for co-firing in Europe have resulted in the explosive growth of wood pellet exports from North America, most of which originate in the forests of the southern United States, says the Natural Resources Defense Council. It cites a Wall Street Journal report that documents that Enviva, the South’s largest exporter of wood pellets, sources wood for its pellet-manufacturing mill in Ahoskie, North Carolina, from clearcut wetland forests in the Mid-Atlantic Coastal ecoregion. That mill produces approximately 400,000 tons of wood pellets per year for export to Europe as fuel for electricity, NRDC says.
The Enviva Forest Conservation Fund plans to award matching-fund grants to nonprofits to permanently protect ecologically sensitive areas and conserve working forest, focusing on the Virginia-North Carolina coastal plain – an area where it operates three wood pellet production facilities and a deep-water marine terminal.