Amite Bioenergy’s parent company Drax responds to investigation

Published 2:30 pm Wednesday, May 31, 2023

GLOSTER — Amite Bioenergy’s parent company Drax is under an open investigation by the United Kingdom’s Office of Gas and Electricity Markets as announced by Ofgem Wednesday. Ofgem stated “we are investigating whether Drax Power Limited is in breach of annual profiling reporting requirements relating to the Renewables Obligations scheme and other related matters. The opening of this investigation does not imply that we have made any findings about possible non-compliance by Drax Power Limited.” 

“Like all energy generators, Drax receives regular requests from Ofgem and continues to cooperate fully throughout this process,” a spokesperson with Drax said in a statement. “Last year Drax appointed a third party to independently verify the accuracy of its biomass sustainability and profiling data as part of an ongoing process. Drax is confident in the compliance of its biomass with the Renewables Obligation criteria.”

Amite Bioenergy is reportedly under investigation for emission violations according to an article published in The Guardian

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According to The Guardian, MDEQ officials notified the company in March that Amite Bioenergy plant had exceeded the amount of allowable hazardous air pollutants in 2021 into 2022. Amite Bioenergy is permitted to emit 24 tons a year of hazardous air pollutants on a rolling 12-month basis. Between January 2021 and December 2022, the company reached 37 tons of pollutants.

Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality’s public information office said it can not comment on matters of enforcement. A public information request has been submitted to find out more details. Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality Public Records office responded to the request in an email Wednesday morning stating they would “respond within seven business days as well as provide the responsive records within fourteen business days.” 

In 2021, Amite Pellet was fined $2.5 million for breaching air pollution rules. The plant, owned by Drax, produces wood pellets to be used in European power plants. Drax issued a statement in response to The Guardian’s article. 

“In January 2022, our new environmental consultant reviewed our previous Hazardous Air Pollutant (HAP) calculations and identified some discrepancies. We contacted Mississippi Department for Environmental Quality (MDEQ) immediately and worked to fine-tune the HAP emissions calculations further and we provided them with these updated readings. Drax took prompt corrective action in response and worked with MDEQ to resolve the issues and provide them with accurate reports and permit applications,” the statement said. “We continue to work with leading environmental consultants to ensure that we monitor and report permit compliance in a rigorous and transparent manner. Drax is committed to environmental compliance and remains focused on transparency and open communication with the Environmental Protection Agency, MDEQ and the community. The safety of our people and the communities in which we operate is our priority, and we take our environmental responsibilities very seriously.”

Wood Pellets Sustainability

Steve Williams, Mississippi Forestry Commission Area Forester for Lincoln County, said wood pellets are produced using saw dust from timber mills and any scraps not viable for other wood products in an article released in May. Drax claims wood pellets produce 80 percent less carbon dioxide emissions when combusted than coal and pellets have 11 gigajoules/m3, compared to 3 gigajoules/m3 from fresh wood or wood chips according to the International Renewable Energy Agency

Drax Vice President of North American Communications Alex Schott said another reason wood pellets are sustainable is due to the carbon cycle created by trees as they grow. While coal plants release carbon dioxide into the air and never recapture it, growing trees do capture carbon emissions burned when wood pellets are burned. 

Pellets are being produced in Brookhaven in addition to Gloster. Lincoln County’s Board of Supervisors approved tax exemptions for Rex Lumber’s pellet plant in Brookhaven on May 2. Rex Lumber has never returned phone calls or emails to talk about the pellet plant, the process of making pellets and what kind of wood is being used in making pellets. Williams said he knew the pellets are usually a mixture of pine and hardwood but only the pellet plants would know the formulas in an interview in early May. 

Schott said pellet production allows for parts of the tree otherwise unusable to be used and generate revenue for mills and land owners. Selective thinning is used to take out undesirable trees or mishappend trees, helps promote better biodiversity on the forest floor and helps desirable trees grow more, he said. 

“You have a cycle in which there is a balance. Thinning supplies low grade wood for pellet production while growing trees reclaim the carbon emissions. Saw mill residues and by-products are used as are low graded wood and misshapen trees now have value,” Schott said. “We work with landowners to promote sustainable forestry practices. Thinning is a standard practice to reduce the density of trees. Some of the trees are removed to make biomass pellets which increases sunlight and encourages nutritious growth on the floor.” 

Timber stand improvements are one way landowners can help deer, quail and turkey populations by stimulating forb and browse growth with increased sunlight. Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks along with Mississippi State University’s College of Forest Resources promote thinning as a habitat management practice to promote early successional plant communities needed for wildlife. 

Schott said Drax works with private landowners to promote healthy forests through education on sustainability and timber stand improvements. 

“We want to make sure they have the right knowledge on how to best care for their land,” he said.

Speaking to protect trees

Dogwood Alliance, a group working to protect southern forests and communities from industrial logging, reached out to The Daily Leader in response to The Guardian story. Located in North Carolina, Dogwood Alliance states “Our forests aren’t fuel,” and believes the southern economy should not rely on “forest destruction,” in its Our Story page. Treva Greer, a spokesperson with Dogwood Alliance, said she believes the federal government should take responsibility for the “environmental injustices,” in a Dogwood Alliance press release. 

“Drax and the wood pellet industry consistently fail pollution limits. State agencies across the South continually fail to stop them,” Greer said. “With President Biden’s Executive Order on Environmental Justice, it is long past time for the EPA to take responsibility for regulating these industrial wood pellet facilities. Not just in Amite County, but across the US South.” 

Forestry impact on economy

The United States Department of Agriculture reports Mississippi has 19.2 million acres of forestland, 62 percent of the state, with 88.64 percent of the forests being privately owned. About half of the forest land is pine and the other half being hardwoods. Pine plantations have about a 25-year rotation whereas hardwoods take much longer to produce timber. 

According to the Mississippi State University Extension Service, forestry was the third largest agricultural commodity generating $1.29 billion in revenue. Forestry and forest products in Mississippi generate an economic impact of $17.24 billion annually.