RALEIGH – Enviva Holdings, a wood pellet manufacturer with facilities in northeast North Carolina and Wilmington, will donate a total of $5 million over 10 years to establish a forest conservation fund to protect forests in northeastern North Carolina and southeastern Virginia. The company harvests trees and manufactures wood pellets to export to Europe from these areas.
“With the launch of the Enviva Forest Conservation Fund, Enviva will work with leading conservation organizations to identify areas of special concern and provide grants to permanently conserve thousands of acres of this forestland,” John Keppler, chairman and CEO of Enviva, said in a company release. “Enviva has always drawn bright lines regarding the special places in the forest that should remain so. For instance, we have never harvested nor have we accepted wood from old growth forests.”
The fund will provide matching grants to organizations to permanently protect areas that the company and the U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities, the organization that will administer the grants, consider “ecologically sensitive.” The fund will focus on the coastal plain of North Carolina and Virginia, an area in which Enviva owns three wood pellet production facilities as well as a deep-water marine terminal. It is also building an export facility in Wilmington.
“Southern forests help clean our water, shield us from storms, and serve as home to many species of wildlife, while at the same time providing jobs and economic opportunity for rural families and private landowners,” said Carlton N. Owen, president and CEO of the endowment. “The Enviva Forest Conservation Fund will permanently protect some of the most sensitive bottomland forests in Virginia and North Carolina and will improve the sustainable management of others. We are especially pleased to be working with Enviva to advance these important goals.”
The rising demand for wood pellets was created by European countries’ policies that place a premium on renewable sources of fuel to create electricity. Biomass, including wood pellets, are one of the most reliable forms of renewable energy, and are made even more attractive by the fact that they can be used in the same plants that once burned coal. The wood burns much cleaner than coal but is also contains much less energy density, meaning more fuel must be used to produce the same amount of electricity.
Unlike other forms of renewable energy, wood pellets can be stored on site and burned when needed to produce electricity. Wind and solar, by contrast, produce energy only when the weather cooperates, which may or may not correspond to times of high electricity demand.
Some environmental groups have questioned whether Southern forests are threatened by the industry. Industry representatives point out that they often harvest trees from forests grown for other uses, such as paper and furniture, taking the twisted trees as well as the limbs and bark that cannot be sold otherwise and was previously left to rot on the forest floor. Keppler says that Enviva takes conservation seriously.
“We are deeply committed to keeping America’s working forests healthy and growing, and protecting our forests for our families and future generations,” Keppler said. “That’s what the Enviva Forest Conservation Fund is all about.”
According to the company, the conservation fund will focus on about 35 North Carolina and Virginia counties that include about 6 million acres of forests of all types. Of this total, about 20 percent are bottomland forests – low-lying, marshy areas near rivers and streams that are home to tree species such as cypress, gum and oak. Many of these bottomlands are in the Albemarle Sound drainage basin along the Roanoke, Chowan, Meherrin, Nottoway and Blackwater rivers.