AK: Estonia wants woody biomass recategorization in EU green package

Logging in an RMK forest.
Logging in an RMK forest. Source: RMK

Estonia is seeking alterations to the treatment of woody biomass in the recently unveiled European Commission green package to reflect the fact that it, along with the other Nordic and Baltic member states, have far higher levels of forestation than the European Union's core, ETV news show 'Aktuaalne kaamera' (AK) reported Thursday evening. While in the 1990s, wood was treated by the EU as a renewable energy source alongside wind and water, it no longer is.

Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania and Sweden are seeking lighter restrictions on the use of timber in energy production, which would involve negotiating biomass to remain a source of energy production under the Renewable Energy Directive.

The freshly announced European Commission climate package requires member states both grade timber stock in terms of value, and avoid its use in burning in power stations - somewhat of a change from the union's stance in the 1990s, when wood as a fuel source was equated with wind and solar energy in terms of its renewable energy status.

The commission does not explicitly bar the use of woody biomass in electricity generation, however.

Woody biomass is in short wood used as a fuel to produce either electricity or heat. While Estonia's oil shale sector is having to be restructured in order to meet long-range EU climate goals, burning wood can release as much, and sometimes more, CO2 than fossil fuels.

The definition may need rewording, Taavi Aas told AK. He said: "Tree stumps and roots are currently off-limits, but such nuances are being negotiated on, to allow them also to be included as biomass."

Undersecretary at the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications Timo Tatar said that: "We have a special interest in bioenergy and forests, as we are, like other Nordic countries, rich in forest cover".

"We remain convinced that our forest management is sustainable, and if this is done, then bioenergy will also play a role," he added

Higher-value wood than woody biomass is not burned in Estonia's power stations, whereas some shale oil-burning plants can do just that, though the practice has attracted opposition.

Estonia's forest coverage stands at around 50 percent all told, both state and privately-owned, while Finland's is even higher, at 75 percent. The EU average is a little under 38 percent, while core EU countries such as Germany (32 percent), the Netherlands (less than 10 percent) and Belgium (around 22 percent) have far scantier forest cover than the northernmost member states. Former EU state the U.K. has a forest cover of under 12 percent.

Some conservationists in Estonia, however, say the European Commission's proposals don't go far enough.

Siim Kuresoo, the head of the forest program of the Estonian Fund for Nature (Eestimaa Looduse Fondi metsaprogramm) told AK that: "Many scientists and citizens have petitioned the commission for the Renewable Energy Directive to exclude all wood types from renewable fuels, but the commission did not heed this. This will certainly be a major blow to Europe's forests."

The package announced this week would ban the production of energy from biomass where it comes from highly biodiverse forests.

One industry spokesperson, Henrik Välja, of the Forest and Wood Industry Association (Metsa- ja Puidutööstuse Liit) said that there were differences in the proportion of woody biomass which could be used for burning in timber from Estonian forests, compared with those of Finland.

Whereas 40 percent of timber cut is sold as is, with 25 percent as pulpwood, for instance used in making paper, and 35 percent will be burned as firewood, with Finnish forest the proportions are 40 percent, 50 percent and 10 percent respectively.

"As long as we do not have this [Finnish] situation, it makes sense for us to use raw materials for local heat production, energy production and electricity generation," Välja told the show.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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