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 UK's Drax targets California forests for two major wood pellet plants
[May 7, 2024]

Drax, a major global manufacturer of wood pellets for bioenergy, has joined a California nonprofit in a controversial plan to build two industrial-scale wood pellet plants in the state. The two mills combined will be capable of making and exporting 1 million tons of pellets annually, primarily for Asian markets.

The proposed California siting of two large biomass mills would mark a major expansion of the industry outside of the U.S. Southeast, where most pellet making is currently centered. The project has raised red flags with forest advocates.

Golden State Natural Resources (GSNR), a state-funded nonprofit focused on rural economic development, has been planning the wood pellet plants for several years. Those plans received a boost in February when U.K.-based Drax, which operates 17 pellet-making plants in the U.S. Southeast and British Columbia, signed a memorandum of understanding with GSNR to be involved in the California project.

Greg Norton, GSNR¡¯s president and CEO, said in public meetings that a goal of the nonprofit is to improve forest resiliency in rural California and reduce the risk of catastrophic forest fires, which have ravaged the state for decades.

After evaluating various options, Norton said his group decided on wood pellet making as a way of harvesting ¡°low-value¡± trees and forest residue and creating economic opportunities through a product with high demand in Japan and South Korea; those two nations imported 6 million metric tons of pellets in 2021 and are poised to import far more to help meet their Paris climate agreement goals of phasing out coal.

¡°Our purpose is to enhance forest health, leading to forest resiliency with a long-term sustainable project primarily through science-based best practice forest thinning and treatments,¡± Norton was quoted as saying.

Source: mongabay.com