Letters to the Editor

To mitigate climate change, we should reduce our reliance on wood-fired electricity

Sep 22 2022, 7:10 AM

Some Vermont residents are working to mitigate climate change by switching from fossil fuels to electricity in their cars and homes. Today, the Vermont electric grid is fueled mostly by renewable and nuclear fuels. However, not all “renewable fuels” are the same. 

Wood-fired electricity, while called “carbon neutral” by the EPA, is not in the same category as wind and solar, which are non-depletable carbon-neutral renewables. 

Wood can be over-harvested. Furthermore, it is not carbon neutral. That’s because when a tree is removed from a forest and burned, it will take 50 to 100 years before the carbon dioxide that was released into the atmosphere from that tree will be recaptured and incorporated into a new tree. At that point, maybe the action of burning the tree will become carbon neutral. 

But until then, there will be more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere than if the tree had not been burned. And since carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, there will be more climate change. 

When you multiply this scenario by millions of trees, you end up with a substantial increase in the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration for the next few decades. And it is in the next few decades when mitigating climate change is arguably the most important. There are also concerns about the efficiency of combustion and environmental justice. 

Many national and international groups of scientists have recommended reducing or eliminating reliance on wood-fired electricity and that is also the most prudent recommendation for Vermont. 

Andy Friedland

Norwich

Andy Friedland is a Dartmouth Environmental Studies Department professor emeritus and has worked as an ecosystem scientist in the Green Mountains as well as the Adirondacks and the Whites.