From addressing climate change to achieving American energy independence, there are many reasons I believe we need to be focused on supporting a wide variety of innovative energy sources. As we work toward creating more affordable and clean energy, one piece of this strategy just happens to be right in our backyards.
Over the last decade, the United States has become the world’s largest exporter of wood biomass — the trees and parts of trees that the timber industry can’t use. Utilities across Europe and in other nations have used wood energy to replace tens of millions of tons of coal in their power plants. In fact, as the discussion continues on reducing emissions, many point to Europe’s progress in this area.
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One of the fastest-growing sources of renewable energy in Europe remains biomass, much of which is grown in my home state of Georgia and exported overseas to meet their targets. In fact, it’s estimated that biomass makes up nearly 60 percent of the European Union’s renewable portfolio.
Like wind and solar, wood energy is renewable and emits vastly less carbon than fossil fuels, which is why countries with ambitious carbon reduction goals are smartly incorporating it into their power grids.
While wood energy is helping the world reduce its dependence on fossil fuels, it’s also contributing to the health and sustainability of the working forests where it is sourced — primarily in the Southeastern United States.
Over the last 50-plus years, while the population in the Southeast has grown exponentially, along with demand for forest products, the number of trees in the region has also steadily increased.
This is possible because increased demand for forest products means that private landowners get more money for selling the trees on their land. That, in turn, creates incentives to keep that land for growing trees, rather than converting it to another use like development. These incentives are critical as urbanization remains the number-one cause of forest conversion in the Southeast.
And markets for forest products work. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, from 1953 to 2011, the total volume of trees grown in the Southeast has increased by 50 percent. In fact, today’s private landowners in the Southeast are growing 40 percent more wood than they remove every year.
As a Georgian, I’m proud that my state has set the bar for productive and healthy forest management. This success is due to decades of hard work by our state’s landowners, harvesters, wood products manufacturers and research universities whose livelihoods and careers depend on sustainably managed forests.
Additionally, wood energy also helps to create jobs in our rural areas. In Georgia, working forests support over 26,000 jobs in my district alone.
To address climate change and create more affordable energy for Americans, we must use an all-of-the-above energy strategy. Wood energy should certainly be included in this plan. It helps ensure the United States maintains healthy forests, supports a transition to renewable energy and creates jobs. To me, that’s a winning combination.
As Congress continues to discuss climate issues, we would be wise to look more closely at wood energy and the benefits it provides.
Rep. Buddy Carter (R-GA 01) sits on the recently formed House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, as well as the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change.
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