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Major investment in wood pellet plants in California

1 June 2024

Drax, a major global manufacturer of wood pellets for bioenergy, has partnered with a California nonprofit in a controversial plan to build two industrial-scale wood pellet plants in the state. These mills would produce and export a combined 1 million tons of pellets annually, primarily to Asian markets. This marks a significant expansion of the biomass industry beyond its current concentration in the U.S. Southeast, raising concerns with forest advocates.

Golden State Natural Resources (GSNR), a state-funded nonprofit promoting rural economic development, has spearheaded the wood pellet plant project for several years. Their plans gained momentum in February when U.K.-based Drax, which operates 17 pellet-making plants in the U.S. Southeast and British Columbia, signed an agreement to join the California project.

Greg Norton, GSNR’s president and CEO, has publicly stated the nonprofit’s goal is to improve forest health in rural California and reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires, a problem plaguing the state for decades. After careful consideration, Norton determined that wood pellet production was the best way to utilise “low-value” trees and forest residue, while creating economic opportunities fueled by high demand in Japan and South Korea. These nations imported 6 million metric tons of pellets in 2021 and are expected to import significantly more to help achieve 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.

This is, however, growing opposition to the planned wood pellet mills. Environmental groups, Native American and local communities have submitted their comments to authorities to block the development.

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Source: Mongabay

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