The popular Use Wood Wisely website – www.usewoodwisely.co.uk – answers the demand for easily-digestible and understandable information on the contentious issue of UK power stations burning wood to generate electricity.
Hosted by Norbord, leader in panel products, the site explains the intricacies of the argument which has seen industry confront government over the issue of subsidies provided to biomass power plants amongst other related topics.
Unsurprisingly, subsidising the burning of wood for electricity has led to increased demand for this finite resource. Wood is not a freely available and instantly renewable material, therefore competition for it has risen significantly.
However, true competition is not the issue. Government policy has created a market distortion, with the subsidies received by energy producers providing them with the ability to ‘pay’ more for their wood supply than traditional wood-using industries. This has resulted in increased wood costs.
Like any cost to an industry, these increases are passed on to the consumer. Therefore, UK households are effectively paying twice for the UK Government’s support of electricity producers and their profits – firstly, through their energy bills and, secondly, in the higher prices of wood based products, such as furniture and building materials.
This poses a major threat to both direct and indirect industries that use wood. It puts at risk investment and jobs in industries that were established long before wood was burned for electricity production. Often these industries are in rural areas and, as such, are significant local employers and contributors to their community. Using wood to manufacture materials and goods has many positive benefits. The embedded CO2 remains locked up (rather than released instantly when burnt) plus, as value is added to the wood, it becomes an opportunity to earn revenue for both UK Government and industry. Rather than burning wood to generate electricity, the UK Government should redirect its support to activities that can assist it to meet its emissions targets. For example, timber frame housing uses building material that has the lowest embodied CO2 and, as a result, can deliver up to a 33% reduction in the energy consumption for a large detached house. At present, building timber frame housing receives no direct encouragement.
Only once wood has been used, re-used and then recycled, when all options for extending its life have been exhausted, should wood be considered viable for energy recovery (burning). This type of material utilisation is exactly what the principles of the Circular Economy is intended to deliver – reduce, reuse and recycle.
Burning wood before its re-use and recycling potential has been maximised and exhausted means that all the embedded CO2 is released instantly, contributing to those emissions that the UK has committed to reduce whilst also removing the opportunity to optimise the economic benefits of this precious resource.
Norbord continues to campaign for the best use of wood supplies via the Use Wood Wisely campaign – www.usewoodwisely.co.uk. In the wood panels industry, among others, wood is made into into panels that lock up carbon for many decades.
 UK Timber Frame Association (http://www.uktfa.com/why-timber-frame/timber-frame-a-sustainable-future/)
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