Europe Today: Stealing Wood, Burning Wood

January 20, 2013 at 12:57 pm

Green energy is expensive energy. In Europe, prices are rising and unintended consequences have followed.

woodpile

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Last month, I took a six-hour train ride from Munich to Berlin. As we swept through the German countryside, I noticed a great deal of firewood.

It was piled high, close to houses and outbuildings. It was stacked in long rows against stone walls and fences. My guess is that we burn a comparable amount of wood in Canada and the US during the winter, but I hadn’t expected to see so much of it in a nation as environmentally conscious as I imagine Germany to be.

I have no idea whether burning wood is good or bad from a CO2 emissions perspective. It isn’t difficult to find a range of opinions on that question (see here, here, here, and here). I do know that residents of San Francisco get harassed for lighting their fireplaces by inspectors concerned not about greenhouse gas emissions but about air quality in general (backup link).

What’s more interesting to me is that some Europeans apparently feel so pinched by their heating bills that they’re now stealing firewood. The weekly German news magazine, Der Spiegel, is currently running an English-language story titled Woodland Heists: Rising Energy Costs Drive Up Forest Thievery.

We hear a great deal about Germany’s aggressive pursuit of renewable energy. What we hear less about is the fact that renewable energy is expensive. Germans reportedly purchased 400,000 new wood stoves in 2011, and have been doing so in increasing numbers since 2005.

In Greece, renewable energy policies have also been wreaking havoc. Reuters reported last September that that country’s

electricity system came close to collapse in June when market operator LAGHE was overwhelmed by subsidies it pays to green power producers as part of efforts to bolster solar energy. [backup link]

Some Greeks are apparently coping with rising prices and cold winters by felling trees in public parks for firewood.

Increasing the amount of renewable energy in the national mix is also pushing prices higher in the UK. One result: a reported 180,000 homes there had a wood stove installed in 2011 (backup link).

A UK activist organization claims that some people had to choose between heat or food over the Christmas holidays. According to another activist group, elderly people “living in the coldest homes are three times more likely to die a preventable death than those living in warmer ones.”

In the 21st century, in a country as affluent as Great Britain, it’s surely a scandal that elders are spending their twilight years cold and miserable rather than warm and comfortable.

There is no perfect source of energy. In the real world, every option available to us has pros and cons. The facts are quite simple: the more green energy our society produces, the higher the price climbs.

Unless something changes, the remarks of the blogger over at Sunshine Hours may not be much of an exaggeration:

This is your future. Huddled around wood stoves to keep warm because electricity is too expensive because of subsidies paid to rich people who own wind farms and solar panels.

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