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Response To Dorothy Thompson

February 5, 2017

By Paul Homewood



The Telegraph have printed this letter today in response to Christopher Booker’s piece last Sunday om renewable energy:




It contains a number of misleading statements:



1) Far from producing more CO2 emissions, as Mr Booker claims, we actually make carbon savings of more than 80 per cent.

This calculation ignores the CO2 emitted from burning wood, on the basis that it will be reabsorbed by replacement forestry.

Even if this is the case, it would take many decades to take effect, thus making it worthless as a means of combatting climate change in coming years.

The Partnership for Policy Integrity (PFPI), a US environmental group, published a damning assessment last year on the impact on US forests of logging for biomass. They included this table showing that CO2 emissions from biomass were actually greater than from coal:





Thompson is only able to get away with this sleight of hand because of EU rules, which state that CO2 emissions from burning biomass count as zero carbon.



2) Electricity generation in Britain is heavily regulated. Drax must demonstrate that the biomass we use comes from sustainably managed forests where biodiversity is protected, productivity is maintained, and growth exceeds what is harvested.

Drax takes the lower grade wood, including tree tops, limbs, sawmill residues, misshapen and diseased trees and thinnings – small trees that have been removed to maximise the growth of the remaining trees.

The US Natural Resources Defense Council would appear to disagree. In 2015 they published this comprehensive report on how US forests were being sacrificed to supply ever greater demand for wood pellets from European biomass plants:




The report found:


Wood pellet exports from the United States doubled from 1.6 million tons in 2012 to 3.2 million tons in 2013. They increased again, by nearly 40 percent, from 2013 to 2014 and are expected to reach 5.7 million tons in 2015. Wood pellet manufacturing in the region is expected to continue skyrocketing, with production estimates as high as 70 million metric tons by 2020.

To manufacture wood pellets, mills in the Southeast cart in truckload after truckload of raw material harvested from the region’s forests to their facilities where they compress sawdust or grind up whole trees and other large forest residuals into uniform pellets. These pellets are then loaded onto ships and transported across the Atlantic Ocean to be burned in European power stations. Wood pellet manufacturers and their major customers claim that pellets from these mills are composed entirely of sawdust and other mill residues, tree trimmings, and diseased or “problem” trees not suitable as timber.

However, studies have concluded that logging residuals alone are unlikely to meet biomass fuel market demand and that healthy, whole trees (e.g., pulpwood) will be needed. Our research, along with the research of other organizations, shows that the harvest of whole trees is already taking place—and that these trees are coming not only from plantations. This report is the first to reveal the potential scale of the pressure on southeastern forests from operating and proposed pellet mill manufacturers in the region. Working with the Conservation Biology Institute, the Natural Resources Defense Council has compiled data showing the troublesome geographic nexus between unprotected forests in the region and existing and proposed wood pellet manufacturing facilities, placing the threats to these forests in stark visual relief.

Existing and proposed pellet mills, such as those owned by U.S. pellet manufacturing giant Enviva and British utility company Drax Power, are sited not just within harvest range of plantations but within range of unprotected, natural bottomland hardwood forests. Nearly every proposed pellet plant—and several current plants—are sourcing from areas that include critical habitat for up to 25 species that are federally listed as imperiled or endangered. Seen here in totality for the first time, the pressure on forests in this region from the biomass industry is nearly ubiquitous.



The PFPI report, already mentioned, also claimed:


The report concludes that Enviva’s statements about the sources of wood it uses for pellet manufacture are also misleading, because they emphasize the role of “residues,” “sawdust,” and other types of waste wood and downplay cutting of whole trees for feedstock.  Specifications for the company’s pellet plants indicate that Enviva predominantly uses large-diameter tree trunks and branches for feedstock, including mature hardwood trees from wetland forests. On-the-ground investigations also bear this out.  

"There is ample evidence documenting Enviva’s reliance on large volumes of whole trees to make wood pellets; we have seen the wetland forest clearcuts and watched truck after truck loaded with trees enter their facilities," said Danna Smith, Executive Director of Dogwood Alliance. "Enviva and others in the biomass industry present the burning of forests for electricity as a positive but it’s actually harming our environment, rural Southern communities, and the climate."





Clearly the wood that Drax and other biomass operators source is not harvested in a sustainable way. Nor does it appear to be purely offcuts and the like, which Thompson would like us to believe.



3) Drax must demonstrate that the biomass we use comes from sustainably managed forests

In theory, the wood pellets Drax uses are supposed to be certified for sustainability. The US company Enviva is one of their major suppliers.

However, Enviva and others are audited by the Sustainability Biomass Partnership (SBP).

As the Drax website notes, in 2013, we co-founded the Sustainable Biomass Partnership (SBP) with six other companies. SBP was set up to provide a tool for assuring that woody biomass is supplied from legal and sustainable sources. That tool is a unique certification scheme designed for woody biomass, mostly in the form of wood pellets and wood chips, used in industrial, large-scale energy production.

Until last October, the SBS Chairman was none other than Dorothy Thompson.

The six members of SBS read like a Who’s Who of biomass plant operators:




The idea that SBS can be relied upon to be independent and objective is frankly laughable.

In no other industry would such conflict of interest be tolerated.



In reality, burning biomass is neither green, sustainable, nor does it do anything to reduce CO2 emissions for many decades to come.

Even Ed Davey, when he was running DECC, accepted that there were genuine environmental concerns, and saw biomass burning as only a temporary solution to meet short-term carbon reduction targets.

Without the EU ruling that it counted towards renewable targets, and consequently the obscene subsidies that followed, biomass operations such as Drax would never have got off the ground.



Booker has suggested we knock some letters to the Telegraph together, to respond to Thompson’s. I will try and do something tomorrow.

If anybody else wishes to, the email address is:

  1. Ian Magness permalink
    February 5, 2017 7:37 pm

    Go for it Paul – and ram it down their throats.
    I rarely believe in using words like “lying” about the politicians, scientists and businessmen involved in the global warming industry, partly because so many of them are simply ignorant of the truth. In this case, however, there is simply NO WAY that Dorothy Thompson does not know that what she has written here is not a blatant pack of lies. She should resign or be fired immediately. Somehow, however, I don’t expect that she will be.

    • johnmarshall permalink
      February 7, 2017 12:34 pm

      I have emailed that woman several times and her lying replies at least show consistancy.

  2. Ian Magness permalink
    February 5, 2017 7:42 pm

    Annoying! I put one too many “nots” in my post above. Anyway, you know what I meant, ie that Thompson’s letter is a pack of lies and she bloody well knows it.

  3. February 5, 2017 7:46 pm

    I would suggest that a single letter from an authoritative source, such as you Paul, is all that is needed, especially if you can get Christopher Booker’s endorsement. Showing up the blatantly misleading (hence fraudulent) claims of over-paid troughers like Dorothy Thompson is vital. There are too many renewable energy liars about.

    Please note that there is a typo in the first sentence under item 1): “burning coal” should be “burning wood”. How the trees know that the CO2 has come from burning wood rather than from burning coal is beyond my comprehension.

  4. February 5, 2017 7:51 pm

    Clear cutting bottom land hardwood forest has been an environmental outrage here for some years, focused on Enviva. Both the NRDC and EDF here have been quite active in protest, but can do little legally since the timber is sold off private land, like the farm in the post image (you can see the ends of two fields). Perhaps requesting them to provide letters would be of some help. Just email them the post with a quick note; they will likely respond vigorously.

  5. John F. Hultquist permalink
    February 5, 2017 7:56 pm

    The whole idea of shipping wood to Europe to be burned is a stupendously stupid idea. Coal is a much better fuel and has no other use, as does a forest and, also, the lumber that can be harvested.
    The companies doing so should be able to document the amount of lumber products being produced from the bole of the tree – shown in the photo going into the plant. If there are no other products, then they are chipping the trees (trunks or boles).
    Good forestry practices leave the small limbs (branches and needles or leaves) on the forest floor to protect soil and provide nutrients. If diseased these may be burned.
    If Europeans want to burn trees – plant fast growing Hybrid Poplar and harvest them.
    Hybrid Poplar #2, Cottonwood is #5, and Kudzu is #9 — here:
    Fast growing plants

    • February 5, 2017 9:03 pm

      The only wood product at Envivia plants is wood pellets. And proper management of hardwood forest is (unlike softwood) never clearcut, always selective cut. That way the forest is always regenerating while wildlife is protected. I own three hardood woodlots totalling about 110 acres on my farm that get managed by professional foresters. We have deer, wild turkey, squirrel, ruffed grouse, rabbits, raccoons, coyotes, and bobcats. What is happening because of Drax is an environmental crime.

      • John F. Hultquist permalink
        February 6, 2017 4:39 am

        In the NRDC report (page 18), Map 12 Georgia hot spot – note this is west of Savannah. Two counties there, Effingham and Bulloch, share a boundary using the Ogeechee River. I’ve been on that river in a canoe. Where these areas are low they have been call “southern river swamps” and investigated by the likes of Eugene Odum.

        Somewhere (in a box) I have a copy of a report by him with that name: Southern River Swamps. (from memory, so might not be exactly right)

  6. February 5, 2017 8:09 pm

    Wood burning is not zero carbon, because presumably what matters (to some) is the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, which gets to equilibrium when the rates going in and out are the same. The rate going out is proportional to the concentration, so increasing the rate going in (by burning wood) results in a rise in concentration to the point where the rate going out matches the higher rate going in.

    My local nature park sometimes puts signs next to fallen tree trunks “Please don’t take these logs, they are valuable habitat for various bugs”, biomass burning is anything but “green”.

    But, with margins so tight and nobody daring to build anything other than blob-approved generation, which won’t do diddly for margins, the UK probably can’t do without Drax biomass …

  7. TinyCO2 permalink
    February 5, 2017 8:16 pm

    Two more things spring to mind. If they’re shipping diseased wood are they also shipping diseases and pests? And did that wood originally have a use? Like our food manufacturers using ‘sustainable’ palm oil for producs, it drives locals to clear more land and plant more palms to replace their original supply that is now being shipped abroad.

    • February 5, 2017 9:09 pm

      The three hardwood ‘diseases’ in eastern US forests are Chestnut blight, a fungus which came from Europe, Dutch elm disease, a fungus which came from Europe, and emerald ash borer (the larvae consume the floem and girdle the ash) which came from China. The pelletizing process would guarantee that no eggs or larvae could survive. So you are safe.
      The problem is those logs aren’t diseased, they come from clearcut hardwood forest. A big forestry nono.

  8. mothcatcher permalink
    February 5, 2017 8:36 pm

    Biomass SOUNDS green, doesn’t it? Sounds green enough to get the Drax scam past the very light critical appraisal to which it is subjected. Doesn’t really stand up to close scrutiny, as Paul now shows us.

    Of course, if you don’t believe that CO2 is the key, then whether it saves 80% CO2, or produces 80% more CO2, doesn’t really matter. The real damage is the extra cost to consumers, which in my view should be the overriding issue.

    The conservation issues in the USA are rather a different matter. Whether you believe the Drax CEO’s version of what is going on or not, it can be theoretically possible to harvest forests in this way without destroying the forest itself. I have seen stats which, contrary to Sierra Club propaganda, show that the amount of US land under forest has been increasing for some decades now. But if you are the kind of environmentalsit that I am, you won’t be reassured. Those figures don’t tell the whole story: one of virgin ecosystems being widely destroyed, and replaced with a sanitized sort of ‘tree farm’ that has a far less varied flora and fauna than that which existed previously. We’ve been doing similar in the UK. For 40 years we suffered the Forestry Commission, which was charged by the Government simultaneously with looking after our forests, and producing timber from them. They removed thousands of square miles of native hardwoods, and planted fast-growing stands of foreign conifer species which were biologically almost sterile compared to the woods they replaced. Now we seem to think that, if we subscribe to a charity which sponsors planting of new trees, we can repair the damage. Some hope. (Of course, I’ll admit this is really a minority interest. People like me are few. Mr average may say that he cares about this, but really he doesn’t, and it isn’t going to make much difference to him one way or another.)

  9. February 5, 2017 9:31 pm

    In the land of energy management speak and climate spin doctors everything is in order, or so they would have outsiders believe. Just pay up and shut up is their mantra.

  10. February 5, 2017 10:36 pm

    “Drax takes the lower grade wood, including tree tops, limbs, sawmill residues, misshapen and diseased trees and thinnings – small trees that have been removed to maximise the growth of the remaining trees.”

    Well, I guess we know what Ms. Thompson thinks of the riverine forests forests of the Southeast, such as the former ones along the Roanoke River in North Carolina. Not much. I actually did work in those forests as part of an Ecosystematics class to the late Dr. Albert E. Radford, my major professor at The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Her statements are preposterous.

    CO2 is CO2. If you burn wood you get CO2. And further, there are more carcinogens released from the burning of wood than from fossil fuels.

    • Mike Jackson permalink
      February 6, 2017 10:37 am

      Carcinogens don’t count, Joan. It’s the planet you’re saving, not people. People are a blight on the planet so added carcinogens are in reality a bonus.

      This doesn’t apply, of course, when they are particulates from diesel fumes which can then be blamed for causing smog which in reality is down to increased use of woodburners in places like London. If it’s a choice between banning wood burning or banning diesel, the diesel will take the hit every time.

      See Steve McIntyre on “peas” and “thimbles”!

  11. February 5, 2017 11:35 pm

    This cannot help but become more and more of a problem. Pellet stoves are popular in the US. I use something called EcoBricks made from compressed hardwood in my wood stove. I only use it part time. However, there is no way the demand for sawdust and other waste woods can meet US demand and overseas demand for pellets and the compressed sawdust products. Electrical heat is outrageously expensive (at least here in the US) and propane is better, but not much, which is why I went to EcoBricks. As costs rise for electric and fossil fuels, more and more forests will be flattened. There is no sanity in this. Destroying the planet to save it is the definition of insane. (Obviously, it’s also insane to ship wood from the US to England to save on CO2 output. Unless they’re using a sail boat…..)

  12. Athelstan permalink
    February 6, 2017 12:39 am

    It’s just so daft, chopping down trees in the states to ship 3000 miles to burn here – instead of coal!! Good Gawd whothunked up that boondoggle on speed?

    Next! – surely only batshit crazies would do that……………………, to attempt to justify such energy bananas – and this is what you happens – when government insists on certain outcomes [energy policy written by green NGOs]. It begets, unintended and invented lunacy to which only an adherent of the priesthood of the green credo would condone.

    Step forwards, Ms. Dorothy ‘Dotty’ Thompson.

  13. Ross King permalink
    February 6, 2017 12:39 am

    Big Brother (still very much alive since “1984”) will have an immediate job vacancy for Dorothy Thomson in the unlikely, but — in my opinion — hi’ly desirable outcome of losing her job.
    How does she measure the “80% carbon savings”? I’m guessing she egregiously uses the “carbon-recycling” argument for burning bio-mass, which is now being commercially *imported* — yes, imported — from clear-cutting natural forests in *USA*. And Scandinavia, from what I understand from the evicence.
    This lady would have us believe that it is your and my twigs from trimming our hedges. I have a personal “Lying-Toad” index (from zero to -20), and I invite readers to add their measure of what she says, along with inviting her to guess what my measure is.

  14. February 6, 2017 2:28 am

    Reblogged this on Climate Collections.

  15. alexei permalink
    February 6, 2017 4:05 am

    Dorothy Thompson is also a Non-Executive Member of the Bank of England as well as Johnson Matthey.
    Does that sound like a good basis for understanding ecology?

  16. David Richardson permalink
    February 6, 2017 8:06 am

    The first two emails I have opened today implored me to save the planet by not printing the message – you couldn’t make it up.

    As they say, 25 years ago Greens were chaining themselves to trees, now they are burning them. Once again you couldn’t make it up.

    In truth of course many environmentally aware people are infuriated by this stupidity, but your CO2 obsessed numpty fails to see the problem.

  17. Harry Passfield permalink
    February 6, 2017 9:59 am

    There is a sublime irony in that the West is trying to find ways to stop the third-world from burning forests for heating and cooking – and contributing to AGW – while at the same time imploring first-world leaders to burn more forests to stop global warming.

    • February 7, 2017 12:33 am

      Your use of sublime irony was sublime irony, right?

      • Harry Passfield permalink
        February 7, 2017 8:43 am

        Hi Ristvan. [grin] I suppose I could have used ‘supreme’ but in using ‘sublime’ I figure it covers it as in (Dict Def:) “Sublime: complete; absolute; utter: as in sublime stupidity.”

  18. rwoollaston permalink
    February 6, 2017 11:57 am

    The claim that they are harvesting forests sustainably by removing only smaller trees, residues etc is probably PR nonsense. From knowledge of my local woodlands, just getting the equipment in to fell and retrieve trees profitably means clearing relatively large areas, and in practice the contractors do not harvest sustainably – they get their equipment in, clear the amount they’re asked to then go home. I talked about this with a local woodsman who’s spent his life managing woodland and he gave me this interpretation. At the end of the day, profit is the only motive here, so the bigger the equipment and the more accessible the timber the better. No wonder she’s in charge of regulating it; it wouldn’t be allowed otherwise.

    • February 7, 2017 12:57 am

      Yup. Which is why my woodlots are professionally managed. Wisconsin state Foresters go in and mark every tree to be felled in whatever woodlot whenever. Three categories. ‘Mature’ (harvesting now means more economic wood than relatively waiting another 20 years later), ‘wolf’ (misshapen, will never produce much ‘good wood’ while stealing light and soil nutrients from those nearby that would (their post wolf sunlight growth spurts are amazing, if you have 10 years to observe them), and ‘trash’ (in my woods, mainly the soft hardwood species box elder. Grows fast, worth little. Originally only a streambed tree valued for other reasons like beavers and deadfalls. But as Wisconsin deforested to farms, became like a weed). Then I go in and photograph the foresters markings before signing logging contracts. With big penalty clauses for not strictly following the markings. Man, loggers hate those before pictures on the table as we negotiate. Once had an offer to take just 10 mature white oaks for $11,000. Turned it down because could not trust him.
      Benefit of this system over now many years is the main logging traces have become brushed trails for ATV and snowmobiles and xcountry skis. . There is no place in my small forest more than about 100 meters off trail. Makes it easy to skid out lots of firewood for winter. Took decades of labor, now worth it. Drax is an abomination to those of us who truly love nature and are close to it.

  19. Tim Hammond permalink
    February 6, 2017 12:23 pm

    So the logic is that you plant new trees equal to the trees that you burn?

    Why not simply plant new trees equal to the amount of coal you burn?

    That way we get more trees and more efficient and cheaper energy, so everybody wins. The other way, at best, nobody gains and we get more expensive energ.

    • February 6, 2017 2:36 pm

      You need somewhere to put them. That’s not a problem if it’s the same place where the felled trees were.

  20. February 6, 2017 1:18 pm

    We should be more concerned with the swathes of forests being cut down for bio mass fuel production when it is the trees that absorb the CO2 given off when burning fuels. Are there any reliable figures correlating CO2 increases with this massive deforestation?

    • Mike Jackson permalink
      February 6, 2017 2:00 pm

      Tony, the entire scam is a “smoke and mirrors” job.

      You don’t need to read very far (if at all) beyond Paul’s blog, or Pierre Gosselin’s, to realise that we are deep in Alice in Wonderland territory and that “when I use words they mean what I want them to mean …” can be applied to data, concepts, philosophy, and just about every other area of human endeavour.

      To be fair we all tend to do it, putting the best “spin” we can on how we argue a case and finessing or sliding round the bits that are likely to be difficult. It’s called human nature. But it’s why have set up systems of checks and balances in society in general, in science, in politics, to make sure that we get something close to the truth when it comes to making important decisions.

      Those checks and balances are not working because we have placed an unreasonable amount of trust in politicians, scientists, and others in positions of responsibility which includes captains of industry and environmental campaigners. (It also includes the chairman and treasurer of your local sports club and there are a couple of tales I could tell!)

      We cannot check every answer. Few of us on here could answer your question about CO2 vs deforestation. We rely on those who do to give us honest answers. I maintain that Thompson may be as honest as the day is long, that she may be a first-class CEO, for which she appears to have the necessary qualifications. She may be no more or less gullible than the rest of us and when she has been told that converting Drax to biomass is the only way to keep her company in business (“either that or we shut you down, girl!”) she has done what any good CEO does and gone along with it. Especially when government ministers start talking about guaranteed prices for your product.

      How much knowledge she has of what goes on to get her the raw materials only she knows. And she wouldn’t be the first CEO who believes what she is told because digging too deep isn’t what she gets paid for.

      On the other hand perhaps it is time that those who genuinely do know where the wood is being sourced and how, and who know enough science to do the arithmetic on financial and ecological costs and benefits of the entire operation (including CO2 emitted + CO2 not conserved + the time lag before the CO2 emitted today is fully sequestered in the trees that are planted to replace …. etc., etc.) did the calculations and made them public. At least government could no longer hide behind the myth that burning wood chips is somehow environmentally friendly!

      Unless of course it turns out that it is. Which I think unlikely but then I don’t know, do I?? Because I can no longer trust anyone in “authority” to give me an honest answer any more.

      • Harry Passfield permalink
        February 6, 2017 3:09 pm

        A sympathetic take on Thompson, Mike, but, given that she may well be a well-qualified CEO she would be delinquent in her duty if she did not accept the high-level subsidies that have saved Drax from heavy taxes.
        She may well be intelligent enough to know that it’s all smoke and mirrors but she needs the support of a plausible reason to keep her mind from exploding with CD.

      • February 7, 2017 2:09 pm

        Come to think of it, what happened to the “Save our Rain Forests” protesters of yesteryear?
        Have they now decided that bio-mass fuel production is more important than chopping down the acres of trees or is it that they now receive the most funding from SBP, Dot Thompson et al?

  21. Bloke down the pub permalink
    February 6, 2017 2:49 pm

    1) Far from producing more CO2 emissions, as Mr Booker claims, we actually make carbon savings of more than 80 per cent.

    This calculation ignores the CO2 emitted from burning coal, on the basis that it will be reabsorbed by replacement forestry.

    Did you mean biomass?

  22. 3x2 permalink
    February 6, 2017 3:14 pm

    Pretty outrageous if one were a hardcore green.

    Chopping down ancient woodland that may grow back in a hundred years or so to fire a power station half way around the globe.


    • February 7, 2017 1:13 am

      The tragedy is it wont ‘grow back’ in 100 years. Green, yes. Original forest type, NO. Just like for post forest fires, there is the concept of a successional forest. This can be researched by forest type. In clearcut riverine hardwood bottom lands unaccustomed to fire, regeneration takes a couple of centuries. Unlike western coniferous forests or boral forests that depend on fire for rapid regeneration in a mere few decades. Same reason SE US pine plantations are always clearcut, but hardwood forests never should be. Google the origins of the Chatahoochie National Park for details (established by TR). We are still in the sweetgum intermediate soft hardwood stage of regeneration after a century. After one more, the mountains will be back to what they were– minus American chestnut (once the most common tree) killed by invasive Chestnut blight disease.

  23. Tom O permalink
    February 6, 2017 4:18 pm

    It is laughable that energy from wood is considered green but energy from decomposed and compressed wood isn’t.

    However, I had to chuckle when I looked at the emblems of the companies that make up the SBP. Does that emblem next to Vattenfall look rather familiar? sort of remind you of a certain “green” administration?

  24. February 6, 2017 6:57 pm

    Paul, good for you! CB in Sunday Telegraph of 29/01/2017 wrote one his best articles on the stupidity of biomass. To add to what he said: Felling trees, loading and moving them to a place away from the forest, drying them, pulverising them, reconstituting them into pellets, loading onto lorries, lorries driving to a port, unloading the lorries, loading onto cargo ships, sailing across the Atlantic, unloading, loading on to lorries, driving from Liverpool to Yorkshire unloading, loading into power station furnace. The energy and CO2 released, must be huge and is for a product that provides only half the heat energy as anthracite.

  25. Mike Jackson permalink
    February 6, 2017 10:17 pm

    ” The energy and CO2 released, must be huge and is for a product that provides only half the heat energy as anthracite” … on top of which the power station is sitting, that being the reason it was built there! Like Ferrybridge up the road.

    The point being that processing and transportation costs and emissions are all significantly higher than they need be simply because of where Drax was deliberately sited in the first place — a point which cannot be repeated often enough.

  26. John Moore. permalink
    February 7, 2017 2:40 pm

    An aquaintance has been cutting down trees for some time on the adjoining island to Malaysia and has been awarded by the Malaysian government for exporting wood pellets to the US. Whether they are burnt there or re-exported I do not know but if they are re-exported it adds a tremendous mileage


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