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Utilities urged to burn wood to save costs and emissions

Using more wood and scraps would create jobs and lower the trade deficit, argue two associations.

Image: Yle / Mika Rinne

Imported coal should be replaced with domestic wood and logging waste in energy production, according to a paper published on Friday.

The Trade Association of Finnish Forestry and Earth Moving Contractors teamed up with the Finnish Association for Nature Conservation for a document published Friday, which argues that wood is plentiful while being cheaper and more environmentally sound than coal.

Many Finnish utilities have decided to invest in coal-fired plants on the grounds that wood is not sufficiently available, or at least at reasonable prices. The two organisations dispute this claim.

They cite utilities owned by the cities of Jyväskylä and Kuopio. Members of the contractors’ association say they have offered to supply wood to both in sufficient volumes and at lower cost than coal, but have been turned down.

A win-win proposition?

The two associations assert that using wood rather than coal would create jobs, lower the trade deficit and also lower emissions. They note that Finland has committed to cut its carbon dioxide emissions and sharply increase its use of renewable energy sources.

The contractors’ group says that there is plenty of idle capacity of machines and workers during quiet times of the year that could be put to work gathering material for use as biofuel.

“These short-sighted investments [in coal plants] will end up being costly,” says Risto Sulkava, president of the Nature Conservation association. “The increasing costs of using fossil fuels will have to be paid for through carbon credits and the problems brought on by the climate crisis.”

Kuopio utility dismisses claims

Kuopio’s city-owned utility refutes some of the claims in the document. The firm says it is investing in a new boiler that can burn peat or wood, but not coal. As much as 70 percent of the fuel used in the new facility may end up being wood, it says. Kuopion energia says it did use coal last winter, but only because there was an insufficient supply of domestic peat. The Finnish Association for Nature Conservation and other environmental groups also argue that peat should not be considered a renewable source of energy as it takes thousands of years to replenish itself.