CoalSwitch: AEG’s Big Clean Energy Hoax

I’ve been researching Active Energy Group (AEG) for a couple years now and here’s what I’ve found. AEG is a London-based, publicly traded company that mainly produces biomass pellet fuel for global export. AEG developed a torrefied wood pellet fuel called CoalSwitch, which is made from wood and agricultural residues. Additionally, AEG developed an advanced black pellet which combines coal fines and wood to make its patented SuperFuel pellet.

These SuperFuel pellets are a double carbon emissions whammy; extracting and burning more precious forest carbon while continuing to support the dirty coal industry. AEG’s black pellets are meant to be used as drop-in replacement or a co-generation fuel for coal-fired plants. Fortunately, the media and NGOs are taking notice of AEG and their carbon polluting pellets.

Ironically, AEG also developed a soil enhancer called PeatSwitch, which is made from wood waste, agricultural residues and invasive plants. This peat replacement product is actually good for the climate, as it returns carbon and nutrients back to the soil. By their own admission promoting PeatSwitch, AEG acknowledges their polluting biomass endeavors, “(PeatSwitch is) Solution to biomass problem – The US alone generates billions of tonnes of biomass annually – much is put into landfills or dried & burned, producing vast amounts of pollution.”

Below is a timeline of events, articles, videos and personal tweets I’ve posted related to AEG’s activities.

In 2017, AEG negotiated a 20-year Crown Timber license agreement with Canada to harvest wood in Newfoundland and Labrador for its CoalSwitch fuel. “The two forestry management districts have a total land area of 1,211,000 hectares on the Northern Peninsula of the Province, proximate to ocean port facilities, with direct access for shipping routes to Europe.”

In 2018, AEG started testing their first CoalSwitch plant in Utah. “The plant is now undergoing full commissioning, following which Active Energy says it will be able the to deliver commercial quantities of what it calls its “revolutionary” CoalSwitch fuel, described as a “drop-in” biomass replacement for coal, which “can be mixed in any ratio with coal fines or completely replace coal in existing coal-fired power stations, without retrofit, globally.” 

Additionally, AEG received their CoalSwitch plant project funding from Utah Governor’s Office of Energy Development (OED) and Rocky Mountain Power.

AEG partnered with Cobant, a Polish coal producer, to secure a steady supply of coal fines for its SuperFuel biomass pellets. “This is in line with the aim to produce a new “super fuel” product using CoalSwitch, produced from sawmill waste and forestry residue and combined with reclaimed and cleaned coal fines from Upper Silesia’s many coal waste dumps and processed from Cobant’s own patented coal waste reclamation technology.”

AEG signs agreement with PowerWood Canada to manage 5 million hectares of Crown Forests in Alberta. “MoU (AEG) signed to acquire a controlling interest in PowerWood Canada to secure feedstock and support the proposed roll-out of CoalSwitch™ in the Province of Alberta”

The massive 5 million hectares of boreal forest is equivalent to 19,305 square miles, which is an area larger than Vermont and New Hampshire combined. 

Here is the story by Renewables Now, Active Energy forms JV (with Georgia Renewable Power) to install 3 CoalSwitch units in US.“The first installation will be at the plant in Lumberton, North Carolina. It is expected to be completed by the end of 2018. This project will make use of some equipment owned by AEG at its site in Utah. CoalSwitch facilities will then be built over the coming 36 months at each of GRP’s other biomass-to-energy power plants in Carnesville, Georgia and Colbert, Georgia, which are currently under construction. The three power plants have a combined capacity of 165 MW.”

Coincidentally, the Lumberton location has a long history of burning multiple sources of dirty energy, including: poultry litter (chicken shit), construction debris and waste and green wood chips, under the guise of “clean” energy.

On December 4th, 2018, The Western Star ran this story, “Hawke’s Bay thrilled, Roddickton-Bide Arm and St. Anthony mayors disappointed with pellet plant announcement.” Essentially, the community of Roddickton-Bide Arm had been cut out of the logging and wood pellet plant plans that AEG and Roddickton-Bide Arm officials were in the middle of negotiating.

Here is Sheila Fitzgerald, the mayor of Roddickton-Bide Arm, realizing that AEG is changing its location of their proposed pellet plant from St. Anthony to Hawke’s Bay, which would do little to benefit her local economy.

Watch the videos.

Former forestry operator questions deal, forestry minister defends permit approval. “Leander Pilgrim, a former forestry operator on the Great Northern Peninsula and former mayor of the town of Main Brook, has been opposed to AEG’s proposed operation since it was first discussed in the media in 2017.”

“His concerns at the time focused on the environmental impact forest clear-cutting may have on the Great Northern Peninsula. This issue remains a major priority for Pilgrim. He is now questioning why the provincial government did not require Active Energy to submit an environmental preview report.”

In addition, Pilgrim questioned AEG’s shady financial record and their ability to raise capital and deliver their CoalSwitch pellet plant as promised.

“He (Pilgrim) points out that according to a Sept. 28, 2018 audit, the company (AEG) did not generate any revenue after its wood fibre operations closed in Ukraine, between December 2017 and June 2018. The company’s retained earnings show losses of $37,247,881 (USD) and its total equity is listed as minus-$254,270 (USD). AEG’s own report on Sept. 28 indicated uncertainty about its future.”

On April 24, 2019, AEG announced that their CoalSwitch “Test Reactors” had arrived at their Lumberton Mill location in North Carolina. “The Lumberton Site will serve as Active Energy’s first permanent commercial production facility and the primary base for all of the Company’s United States CoalSwitch™ operations.  The transfer of all the equipment from the Company’s Utah site is targeted to be completed within 8 weeks, with closure of the Utah site expected by the end of May 2019.”

On September 25th, 2019, Proactive Investors reported, AEG sends CoalSwitch pellet samples to EU markets looking to phase out coal.

On November 28th, 2019, Canadian Biomass wrote this piece, RMDE acquires AEG CoalSwitch license, plans to build CoalSwitch plants. Canadian Biomass touted the first CoalSwitch licensing, “In short, any and all no/low value, ‘non-merchantable’ and damaged fibre, can now be considered as a revenue line item rather than a cost of ‘other’ goods sold.”

On February 9th, 2020, two local scientists wrote a poignant OpEd in The Telegram, criticizing AEG’s allowable harvest plan for their wood pellet operations in Canada’s Northern Peninsula. “Now government has reportedly stipulated that 25% of the permit volume that is of sawlog-quality is to be made available to local sawmill operators. The remaining 75% may be used in the proposed pellet plant. So ‘waste wood’ is now defined as all wood, including whole logs, not currently being used for value-added processes, i.e. the sawmill industry,” the two scientists explained.

On February 19th, 2020, The Advocate wrote, RMDE ready to set up shop, pending approvals. Richard Spinks, on behalf of RMDE, pitched a proposal to Pictou County, Canada, to buy a large parcel in Trenton and build a new CoalSwitch pellet plant. Spinks said it would help revitalize the local timber industry and make up for job losses from the recent closure of the highly controversial Northern Pulp mill at Boat Harbour.

On March 26th, 2020, given the gravity of Northern Pulp’s historical environmental issues, it was not surprising to see that Spinks and RMDE could not close their proposed pellet mill deal with Nova Scotia Lands. Grand Chief Ronald Derrickson of RMDE claimed that NS Lands were “uncooperative.” On the other hand, David McNeil of NS Lands said, “We asked RMDE for specific requests for due diligence. RMDE chose not to provide the information as requested. We did not turn down the offer, RMDE withdrew it.” 

Here is some background info on RMD Environmentals, Inc. (RMDE)
(Based out of British Columbia and Alberta, Canada)

The former CEO of AEG, Richard Spinks, now works as a consultant for RMDE. RMD Environmentals, which is an AEG shareholder, became the first licensee partner for use of AEG’s CoalSwitch pellet fuel.

“RMDE is a wholly indigenous-owned business and has been incorporated by Grand Chief Ronald Derrickson, RMDE’s controlling shareholder and one of AEG’s long-term shareholders. RMDE has an in-depth knowledge of the CoalSwitch™ technology and has been working with a broad spectrum of partners including government, industry and off take partners to develop commercial opportunities within the Territories.” Grand Chief Derrickson is a billionaire entrepreneur and has garnered key access for indigenous logging rights in British Columbia and Alberta, Canada.

RMDE’s $2.4 Million CoalSwitch Licensee PR Statement:
“As a leading BC based environmental engineering and consultancy group, and following the purchase of the CoalSwitch™ licenses for BC and Alberta, RMDE is now uniquely positioned to develop and implement investment projects involving the use of AEG’s proprietary CoalSwitch™ technology in the Crown Provinces of Alberta and British Columbia and is now set to progress a number of projects in both provinces.”

Keep in mind, AEG’s former CEO, Richard Spinks has a troubled past working with Chief Ronald Derrickson to procure BC forest timber for their joint ventures. In 2015, “a KPMG investigation found that the East Prairie, Paddle Prairie and Peavine Métis Settlements violated the Métis Settlements Act by entering into a joint venture agreement with Active Energy Group without due diligence.” It seems that AEG and Chief Derrickson failed to include all of the required tribal parties in this massive timber deal, which was named Kaquo Forestry and Natural Resources Development Corporation.

Coincidentally, Chief Ronald Derrickson brokered the timber harvest deal between Spinks and Metis Settlements, and Chief Derrickson was handsomely rewarded with 10% of the profits. “Active Energy Group and the three settlements will each hold 45 per cent of the shares. The remaining 10 per cent goes to B.C. Grand Chief and Kaquo board chairman Ron Derrickson.” More on this story from Tony Kryzanowski of Logging and Sawmilling Journal.

Back to the timeline.

In the March/April 2020 issue of Logging and Sawmilling Journal, author Tony Kryzanowski explains why AEG backed out of the Roddickton-Bide Arm location and how AEG is now focused on expanding into Western Canada and the United States.

On June 27th, 2020, WHQR Public Media ran a story, Black Wood Pellet Plant In Lumberton Raises Questions Of Environmental Justice. “It is readily apparent from the application documents that neither the company (AEG) nor DEQ have any idea what the actual emissions of this facility will be. In some instances, DEQ appears to have accepted the company’s unsupported assertions regarding particular emissions.” said Heather Hillacker, an attorney at Southern Environmental Law Center.

On August 3, 2020, The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality’s Division of Air Quality (NCDEQ) issued the permit for Active Energy Renewable Power (a.k.a. Active Energy Group) to commence making CoalSwitch black pellets at its Lumberton, North Carolina location. NCDEQ provides a detailed history of AEG’s air permit process.

On September 29th, 2020, Richard Spinks of RMDE, updated their progress for their Alberta CoalSwitch plant. Spinks wrote, “Our ambitions to work to benefit Indigenous Peoples, rural Canadian Communities and the Environment across Canada are being fulfilled one step at a time with projects in development in a number of Provinces across the country,” Spinks continued his progress speech.

“(RMDE) Reached mutually beneficial agreements with a number of Canada’s largest, most successful forestry industry companies, giving RMDE access to waste, residual, pest and fire-damaged fibre sufficient, in volume, to operate our first plant at 50t/hour of production and bringing environmental and economic benefits.”

On October 9th, 2020, Dogwood Alliance shared an important video that outlines the environmental and social injustice issues from the wood pellet industry. The clip of IPCC author, Dr. William Moomaw, is especially remarkable showing the CO2 emissions from harvesting and burning trees.

Video: Dogwood Alliance

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