Otago should cash in on clean-burning wood

Shaun Bowler extols the virtues of "wood energy".

In stark contrast to the fossil fuels we consume so much of, wood energy is 100% renewable.

It's also virtually carbon-neutral, as trees consume enough CO2 while they grow to offset the CO2 released when burned.

Wood energy is cost-effective, being cheaper than most of the alternatives (except usually coal) and far less polluting than most - especially coal.

There's a burgeoning global market for wood energy, most often in the form of pellets because in Europe and increasingly Asia, people realise that bioenergy in the form of wood fuel is a very practical and cost-effective way to reduce carbon emissions and moderate climate change.

All of which explains why Kiwi companies are increasingly turning to wood energy for industrial heat, and institutions with large space-heating requirements, including many schools, are switching to wood as an environmentally friendly, cost-effective boiler fuel.

It's also why the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA) has been working to raise awareness of wood energy, including helping to get projects off the ground to help the industry grow.

It was pleasing to read in the Otago Daily Times (15.2.10) that Otago Polytechnic is considering switching to a wood-fired boiler.

However, it's a shame they appear to be ruling out some wood energy options for reasons we don't regard as accurate.

For example, we have no knowledge of any European countries banning the conversion of coal boilers to wood, as was quoted.

Wood has different combustion properties to coal, so if wood is to be burned in a coal boiler, the boiler should be modified. The Bioenergy Association of New Zealand has published guidelines for these conversions, including minimum safety features, which EECA has approved.

To our knowledge, Otago has no emission limits for PM10 (particulate air pollution) in its current regional plan.

If future limits are imposed, we would hope they take into account the multiple benefits of wood energy, including its ability to substantially reduce emissions such as those from coal - including sulphur dioxide, PM10 and toxic metals - and its role in combating climate change.

Wood energy is a growing local industry with the potential to significantly boost the regional economy.

EECA has supported several Dunedin businesses to make the switch to clean-burning wood from more expensive or dirtier fossil fuels.

Agresearch's Invermay campus reduced its annual CO2 emissions by 900 tonnes by switching to wood fuel last year.

Two Dunedin rest-homes are converting to wood from fossil fuels (reducing CO2 emissions by 720 tonnes per year).

This is on top of the six Otago schools which have already switched.

Commercial wood fuel is stimulating local jobs, with recent investment by two Dunedin companies in high quality wood fuel production and delivery systems.

An Otago wood pellet plant is also due to be commissioned this year. As domestic demand for wood fuel grows, Otago is in a great position to cash in on an expanding energy industry.

It is even possible that our wood energy production could expand to become an important value-added export market.

Otago businesses and institutions that are examining how to meet their future energy needs should look seriously at wood energy - a valuable renewable fuel being produced right here.

Shaun Bowler is the wood energy programme manager at the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority.


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