They already account for almost 15% of heating in our country and their demand continues to grow In the Pyrenees there are waiting lists of four months to get one of their boilers or stoves, but how much does your savings really mean? Is Europe cutting down its old forests to make pellets before the demand for energy? Experts respond Spain and all of Europe fear the arrival of winter. Fossil fuel energy prices continue to break records and show no sign of stabilizing. The war in Ukraine has triggered the demand for energy throughout the continent and politicians and citizens are looking for alternatives to avoid being cold or going bankrupt by turning on the heating. In the coldest areas of our country there are four-month waiting lists to buy a stove wood or pellets. In fact, wood already constitutes the largest source of renewable energy on the Old Continent. “In Spain, biomass accounts for 14.7% of all heating. It is, in fact, the main source of renewable energy for this use,” explains Javier Díaz González, president of the Spanish Biomass Association, to NIUS. In 2021 the growth was brutal,” says Díaz. “And it continues to increase. The installation of equipment has risen by more than 40%. There are already more than 500,000 biomass equipment installed in Spain,” he reports. “Boilers or stoves that use solid biofuels such as pellets, wood chips, dried fruit shells or olive pits,” he specifies. Pellets or chips to save on the bill Since 2020 the price of a liter of heating oil has gone from 0.515 euros to the current almost 2 euros. It has practically quadrupled in two years. As for gas, its cost has increased by almost 800% if we compare it with March of last year, going from costing €17.36 per megawatt hour (€/mWh) to €159/mWh. Some difficult climbs to cope with for many families. “That’s why people are turning to biomass, because although savings have also become more expensive, they are still great,” adds Díaz. Last year, a 15-kilo sack of pellets cost less than five euros, now twice as much. “It is because for its production it needs electricity and for its distribution fuel. Their respective rises have made the product more expensive,” explains Díez, who nevertheless assures that a family can save 50% of its annual energy bill by using this type of bioenergy. “Keep in mind that a house of 100 square meters and with diesel heating can be paying around €1,000 per year and with biomass that can be between 400 and 500 per year. In other words, we are saving at least 50%, and in the case of natural gas even more”, he defends. What do environmentalists think? “It is a sustainable solution for heating houses because we are eliminating fossil fuels from the energy mix. For thermal use it is very efficient, for energy use not so much , but for homes, schools, hospitals, etc., it is very effective,” Miguel Ángel Soto, spokesperson for the Greenpeace Spain Forest Campaign, tells NIUS. “In addition, with this we are stopping financing Putin’s invasion of Ukraine,” he adds. “Another benefit of using this energy is that it is very useful for forest management,” adds the expert. “In our country 300,000 hectares have burned this year and one of the reasons is the abandonment of the forest mass, if all that is abandoned in the forests had been collected and used to convert into pellets or chips, the fires would have been much less virulent and they could have gone out more quickly,” he says. “What cannot be done is to leave all that biomass abandoned in the mountains, uncleaned, because all those branches, pineapples, remains that have not been able to be used by the board industry are a fuel that is impossible to put out when a fire breaks out,” says Soto. Is there indiscriminate felling of forests to obtain pellets? More than a decade ago, the EU began to subsidize the burning of this type of biomass as an alternative to gas and coal. Chips and pellets were first marketed as a way to convert sawdust waste into green energy. However, there are several investigations that denounce the B side of this business. On the one hand, there are environmental experts who affirm that the burning of pellets can be more polluting than coal. They argue that burning wood releases more carbon dioxide than would have been emitted if the energy came from fossil fuels. On the other hand, there are companies that are felling and crushing trees from natural forests in the name of renewable energies, especially in Central Europe, a theory that The New York Times also defends in a recent report. “They are meaningless information”, denies the president of the Spanish Association of Biomass. “On the one hand, its burning can never be more polluting than coal because wood is considered a zero-emissions fuel,” he argues. “And on the other hand, how are trees going to be cut down from protected forests? If there is any regulated sector in this country and throughout Europe, it is the forestry sector,” he adds. “A piece of wood is not cut without authorization and without an exploitation plan. The mountains have to be ordered and the fellings are planned and perfectly controlled,” he defends. “Only what is allowed is cut.” The problem is that in the face of energy demand, perhaps some countries are raising their hands on their permits. “I do not know the specific situation in Romania that is mentioned in the New York Times article, but if it is true that this type of logging is happening, it is something that the EU should put a stop to because it has the tools to do it. It is not I receive cutting down natural forests, and I mean eliminating them, to produce pellets,” says Greenpeace Spain’s spokesperson for forests. Earlier this year, 500 scientists sent a letter to world leaders warning that cutting down forests for bioenergy would undermine the fight against climate change. A 2018 study led by one of the signatories of the letter, John Sterman, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the United States, reaffirmed that opinion by defending that cutting down trees to burn them would be a solution that will negatively affect the climate in the next few years. decades.