Coal Plant Conversion in Germany

ROBIN WOOD continues their ongoing initiative –  backed by German forestry expert and author Peter Wohlleben –  to protect the Earth’s forests and climate by opposing the proposed burning of wood in converted coal power stations in Germany.

Contrary to industry propaganda, Germany’s plan to convert older polluting coal plants to burning forest and woody biomass will not help the climate crisis or our planet.

At least two coal plants in Germany are already slated for conversion to biomass:
  •       The Tiefstack Coal Plant in Hamburg plans to harvest and burn bushes from Namibia across an area the size of Italy
  •       The Onyx Power Group Coal Plant, Wilhelmshaven, plans to import and burn up to 2.9 million tonnes of wood pellets from the USA annually, decimating biodiverse forests in the coastal Southeastern USA that are being cut down at alarming rates to produce wood pellets for Germany.

Protecting Primeval Forests from Weak Industry Standards

In April 2023 ROBIN WOOD and Biofuelwatch published an analysis of the new “Sustainability Code for the use of biomass in low-level stacks” issued by Hamburger Energiewerke, a German energy supplier (HEnW).  The so-called “Sustainability Code” relies on weak or out-of-date standards and is “self-regulated” by the pellet industry itself. As a result, the code even justifies using trees from cleared old-growth forests in Canada and species-rich forests in the southeastern United States.

Cleared deciduous forest in the US state of North Carolina
Photo ▸ Dogwood Alliance

The Sustainability Code allows any kind of wood pellets to be burned as long as they meet the legal minimum requirements of the EU directive, which does not prohibit materials from the clearing of primeval forests.  Experts in fields such as forest ecology were not involved in the process. Almuth Ernsting of Biofuelwatch stated “if Tiefstack is converted from coal to wood, only high-quality wood will be used there for technical reasons. That wood is sourced on the international pellet market, where sustainability is just a greenwashing slogan.”

Jana Ballenthien, forest officer at ROBIN WOOD, states “The industry-written sustainability code confirms our worst fears. A converted low-stack power plant will burn wood pellets from the overexploitation of species-rich and endangered forests from all over the world. These plans must be stopped!” 


The Residues Myth – Valuable wood ends up in power plants and in pellet production

ROBIN WOOD  continued its efforts to expose the false statements of the biomass industry which claim that the sector is fueled largely by ‘residual, waste and thinning wood’.  In reality, more than half the wood produced in the EU is now burned, much of it as pellets manufactured from high quality round wood or whole trees – not ‘waste wood’ – as clearly documented by site visits.  In 2022 and 2023, a research team from ROBIN WOOD visited multiple locations in eastern and northern Germany and found large quantities of round wood in the wood storage areas directly at the production sites. 

Power plants are burning wood that could still be used for products such as chipboard
or even furniture / Large stacks of wood on the premises of the
Leipzig municipal works inBischofferode-Holungen


ROBIN WOOD  researchers were joined by Pierre Ibisch, professor at the University for Sustainable Development in Eberswalde, who summed up the result of the research as follows:  “For me, the most important finding is that a very large number of whole trees are now being burnt, and which are now also missing in the forest to absorb carbon.  It is bitter how society is told the fairy tale of ‘residual, waste and thinning wood’, which the photos obviously contradict.”  

That wood could be more sustainably used, for example, for composite wood materials, chipboard, as insulating material or in paper production, or even be processed into high-quality products such as furniture.  Instead, this valuable wood is incinerated in seconds when inefficiently burnt for heat or energy. ROBIN WOOD forest officer Jana Ballenthien called upon wood energy companies to “provide comprehensive and comprehensible information about the origin of the wood used, and as an immediate measure, they must stop using wood that could still be used for durable goods.”  The full report can be found here.

ROBIN WOOD Actions Raise Awareness

ROBIN WOOD made sure their voices were heard and widely shared through powerful protests and petition drives at various events and facilities over the past year.   With partners, they’ve collected over 820,000 signatures calling for the end of use of wood for heating in power plants, and staged dramatic protests using nighttime projections at Teifstack Coal Plant, before the environmental authority BUKEA in Hamburg-Wilhelmsburg, and at the Federal Ministry of Economics in Berlin. The Tiefstack coal plant could still be converted from coal to biomass in the near future, a plan which Robin Wood opposes.

ROBIN WOOD  and its partners staged a spectacular video-projection onto the Tiefstack coal plant that read
“Don’t Burn our Forests For Energy”.  
Environmental Action Germany (Deutsche Umwelthilfe) and Birdlife Germany
(NABU) helped organize the protest. 

What’s Next

Industrial-scale burning of wood continues while we ignore enormous potential for wind and solar power, all of this while the biomass industry remains heavily subsidized by EU programs and incentives.  Clean energy does not come out of a smokestack, and wood biomass energy is devastating our forests, habitats, and the climate.  ROBIN WOOD continues to fight for a sustainable and just future for our forests and our planet.  Please support their efforts by visiting the links below to sign the petitions, learn how you can get involved, and to donate.  


Partner update (Germany): ROBIN WOOD’s Campaign Against Wood Burning Power Plants
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