Enviva

Image of wood pellets, which are causing an environmental controversy in North Carolina. Though the energy source is carbon neutral in theory, that's not always true in practice.
Andrew_Writer / Flickr Creative Commons

The wood pellet industry is booming in North Carolina, thanks in part to high demand from Europe. Power plants burn the wood product to create energy, but wood pellet companies are cutting down trees at a higher rate than anticipated, raising questions about whether the practice really is carbon neutral.

Enviva
Dave DeWitt

Enviva, the embattled wood-pellet manufacturer, has announced a $5 million conservation program designed to save some of North Carolina’s environmentally sensitive forests.

Enviva has been under fire from critics for using whole hardwood trees to make the majority of the wood pellets it produces, instead of wood waste. At its two plants in North Carolina, more than 85 percent of the wood comes from hardwood trees.

Dave DeWitt

Trucks carrying long logs stream into the wood pellet plant on the edge of Ahoskie all day, every day. The facility, owned by a company called Enviva, was an abandoned saw mill just five years ago. Now, it towers over the adjacent Wal-Mart and Hardees, spewing white smoke.

Along the fence that encircles the plant, logs are stacked 40-feet high. Longleaf pine, southern red oak, white ash - pretty much every tree species that grows in the southeast could be used to make wood pellets.