Are California’s Forests the Next Global Bioenergy Sector’s “Fiber Basket”?

Gary Graham Hughes, Americas Program Coordinator, Biofuelwatch

At its December 2022 public hearing, just prior to the holiday, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) unanimously approved the Final 2022 Scoping Plan Update — Achieving Carbon Neutrality by 2045. 

The Scoping Plan is intended to be a road map that lays out a path for how the state will meet greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals and other climate targets. The Scoping Plan Update is a massive potpourri of existing and proposed future actions and policies that offers a broad take on how the state will meet the now legislated goal of being ‘carbon neutral’ by the two decades distant target of 2045. For CARB, ‘carbon neutrality’ means balancing the net flux of greenhouse gas emissions from all sources and sinks. 

This meeting was tangibly distinct from the conflictive June 2022 hearing on the Draft Scoping Plan Update at which dozens of young activists disrupted the meeting and denounced the public process as favoring polluting industry; as the December hearing got under way the agency, industry lobbyists, and the public could feel that the die had already been cast. 

Despite persistent opposition over the past year from climate justice and environmental organizations to the characterization of dangerous and unproven carbon capture and Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) technologies as essential for meeting state climate goals, the agency was unmovable in its commitment to promoting technologies long associated with the economic and public relations agenda of the fossil fuel and bioenergy sectors.

The Final 2022 Scoping Plan Update approved by CARB includes unprecedented reliance on a wide array of carbon capture and carbon removal technologies and schemes, running the whole gamut of geoengineering techniques such as the mineralization of carbon dioxide, Direct Air Capture, Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Sequestration (BECCS), and other ‘engineered carbon removal’ approaches.

The gesture towards BECCS by California, a self-proclaimed ‘climate leader,’ did not go unnoticed by the global bioenergy sector. On the exact same day as the approval by CARB of the Final 2022 Scoping Plan Update the Drax Group, a United Kingdom-based energy generation corporation, published a trading update that celebrated the State of California endorsement of BECCS in the Scoping Plan Update.

The massive Drax power station, located near Selby in North Yorkshire, England, is fueled by coal and biomass. Drax runs an international biomass supply chain business and sources wood pellets from what Drax calls ‘fiber baskets’, such as the unique lowland coastal forests of the southeast USA and the temperate old growth forests of interior British Columbia, among others.

The same as many other global energy corporations, Drax has an established track record lobbying in Sacramento, and has emerged as one of the biggest corporate advocates for BECCS, claiming that burning forest-based bioenergy is ‘carbon neutral’ and that capturing and storing the emissions from burning wood pellets at their enormous Yorkshire power station will make their operations ‘carbon negative.’ 

This claim regarding the promise of ‘negative emissions’ is central to Drax’s public perception management campaigns, regardless of the fact that Drax has never captured any amount of carbon dioxide from their power plant operations, much less stored them in any permanent manner.

In 2021, Drax was taken out of the S&P Global Clean Energy Index, as the company is no longer considered to be a “clean” energy company by the S&P.

Nevertheless, the high-profile role given to BECCS in the latest California climate plan was taken by the Drax Group to be an endorsement of their bioenergy model. As far as Drax is concerned, they scored a major policy victory in California climate planning.

As major bioenergy interests continue to reveal their plans in the state, from established players like Drax to the newly launched Golden State Natural Resources project that aspires to manufacture and export one million tons of wood pellets a year to global markets, Californians have every right to be concerned that under the guise of climate ‘action’, our forests are being primed by state regulatory agencies to serve as a ‘fiber basket’ for the insatiable global bioenergy sector. For more information, check out