Who’s Watching the Biomass Watchers

Welcome back to my blog!

This week let’s talk about the Sustainable Biomass Program (SBP), which is a primary certifying agency for the wood pellet and woody biomass industry.

SBP was formed in 2013 from the Initiative of Wood Pellet Buyers (IWPB), which was the leading agency that developed biomass and wood pellet standards in Europe. SBP primarily works with wood pellet producers that supply utility companies in Britain. The SBP team consists mostly of former IWPB members, which includes six of Europe’s largest energy companies, GDF Suez, Vattenfall, Dong, RWE, E.On and Drax. Additionally, Vattenfall, RWE and E.On were Europe’s largest carbon emitters from fossil fuels. SBP was in part, formed by the fossil fuel industry.

SBP uses six approved certification bodies for biomass producers. Biomass companies applying for an SBP certificate get to choose which independent “approved certifier” performs their certification review and pays them directly. This could potentially lead to a bias toward a certain certifier that would produce a favorable outcome for the biomass producer.

SBP Artwork
Sustainable Biomass Program and its six “Approved Certification Bodies”

 

Drax was one of the original energy companies at SBP and the CEO of Drax, Dorothy Thompson, was also the Chairman of the Board at SBP. In short, under the leadership of Thompson, SBP’s sustainability framework for certification, and the selection of independent “certification bodies” was directly influenced by Drax Energy. In 2016, Drax Biomass received its first SBP Certificates from a framework it devised and wrote, and from an independent certifier (SCS) that it appointed, for its U.S. wood pellet manufacturing facilities, Morehouse BioEnergy and Amite BioEnergy. This is a blatant “fox guarding the hen house” conflict of interest that should make all SBP Certificates earned by Drax Biomass, invalid.

In addition, there are no U.S. governmental rules that regulate the best sustainable harvest practices of the wood pellet industry; the USDA only provides recommended guidelines for the wood pellet industry. In short, the (domestic) U.S. wood pellet industry is a self-regulated, voluntary system that relies on public perception to justify its certification schemes. However, most of American wood pellet producers are making pellets for international export, mainly the UK and the European Union, which are their biggest markets.

TreeSlash
Photo: Oregon Department of Forestry

Under the guidance of UK’s Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) and the Office of Gas and Electricity Markets (ofgem) directives, imports of wood pellets must meet specific sustainability criteria, referred to as the “timber standard,” which only uses wood that is sourced from approved forest certification schemes like PEFC, FSC and SFI.

In addition, wood pellet trading between EU countries and Canada, falls under the sustainability guidelines of the ENplus certification scheme, which is operated by the European Biomass Association (AEBIOM). Early on, SBP established a working relationship with AEBIOM, to help pave the way for any future collaborations in certification schemes.

For instance, AEBIOM’s 2014 Sustainability Scheme White Paper, mentioned this,

AEBIOM is actively collaborating to the initiative of SBP with being member of the SBP sounding board and with participating in every meeting. This close collaboration is positively influencing the sustainability management of ENplus but it may also lead to the creation of a common sustainability scheme between ENplus and SBP scheme on mid-term.

The reason why this is so important is because SBP is looking to compete with ENplus to share part of the global EU certification market. For instance, Georgia Biomass recently gained the first U.S. ENplus A1 certification, which allows them to legally export wood pellets to the EU. While ENplus is making progress with establishing certifications in America, SBP is quietly trying to corner the large, utility-scale markets of North America.

For instance, Gordon Murray, the Executive Director of the Wood Pellet Association of Canada, was an invited guest at a recent SBP stakeholder meeting, had this to say in a recent Canadian Biomass Magazine article,

SBP has the appearance of a buyer’s cartel. Murray advised the SC that he, along with representatives of USIPA and AEBIOM had attended SBP’s December board meeting as a guest. During the meeting, one of SBP’s directors said to the association representatives, “If you don’t like it, you don’t have to sell to us.” Further, Murray reported that there was a perception that, in North America, the utilities with ownership of production facilities had “jumped to the front of the line” when it came to certification decisions.

Not only is SBP a utility-run, wood pellet certification scheme that has three fossil fuel companies on its board, but now it’s also trying to strong-arm the EU certification industry out of the utility-scale wood pellet market. Here is Carsten Huljus, newly appointed CEO of SBP, relaying some lip service to smooth over their hidden agenda.

My next post I’ll talk about the residential and small-scale commercial wood pellet markets for heating. Cheers.

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