Environment Minister: Estonia needs strategic firewood stocks | news – Advice Eating

As Minister for the Environment, are you happy about rising firewood prices?

Heating is not within the purview of the Minister for the Environment.

But logging is?

As a matter of fact. I’m glad that our forest owners get a fair price when they decide to cut down their forest and sell it for firewood. However, there are better ways to upgrade wood, for example as a building material or logs for building houses. In these cases, the wood fetches a multiple of the price. Things are less rosy for those looking to buy firewood as costs have risen while energy costs have risen on all fronts.

We have a lot of gray alder rotting on tens of thousands of acres. It is not a valuable wood and has a very short carbon sequestration life. Couldn’t the state subsidize alder logging and transportation to boiler plants?

I don’t think gray alder is worthless. It can be used to smoke fish or meat, or to build saunas. But I can’t speak to its profitability. You would have to ask the forest owners.

Why do we pay for Russian gas but allow gray alder forests to rot and release CO2 into the atmosphere?

I agree that the alder needs to be taken out of the forest earlier. It grows very quickly and should have a shorter cycle. I hope that the landowners have noticed the high price of firewood and can get a good price for their alder.

The oil shale industry has suggested that Russian gas could easily be replaced with shale oil. What do you think of last week’s news that oil shale mining is about to expand significantly?

It’s a safety issue where we substitute imported fuel for what we can produce ourselves. In the short term, a sensible step. In the longer term, however, we must look for ways to replace shale oil with environmentally friendly and renewable fuels.

Is that why you prefer wood chips as a renewable raw material to generating electricity from oil shale?

Oil shale is not a renewable resource in our time frame. But mining has been scaled back in recent years and I don’t see anything dramatic here. The mining permits are all from an earlier period. Eesti Energia has promised to become a carbon neutral company by 2040 and I believe it will follow that line.

We have to survive at least three severe winters. If Russian gas shuts down in the summer and the LNG ship project fails, is increased use of firewood in boiler plants our only option?

Already, 80 percent of Estonian homes are heated with wood. We are in a good situation as we use a resource that we have for heating. District heating uses relatively little gas and mostly as additional fuel to cover peak consumption.

In industry, the risks are greater and I hope they realize that. If they can’t replace it with biomethane, they need to consider alternatives. Unlike in Central Europe, turning off gas taps is not a big problem in Estonia. But the financial capacity of these countries is much greater; So I hope that we can stop buying oil, gas and coal from Russia.

Is Estonia ready to export wood chips to Western Europe if necessary?

Naturally. If there is a surplus, we have to export and bring the money to Estonia. We can use it to increase the prosperity of Estonians.

At the same time, we must ensure that our employees do not end up in cold storage rooms. I’ve always wondered why our district heating suppliers don’t have long-term contracts to buy woodchips. I would recommend it as it can guarantee deliveries. Timber wholesalers have long contracts with the state forestry company RMK, whereby part of the timber is obtained from the open market, so to speak. The open market contribution is not 100 percent, and long-term contracts provide some level of security.

There could be strategic stockpiles of firewood like we have for oil products. The Ministry of Economy should actively promote this, since we do not have such reserves today. Boiler plants have no fixed supply contracts, everything is left to the market. The last year has shown that it wasn’t the best approach. I hope we learned from it.

How big should these inventories be?

I can not say. Storage is the main problem as such quantities cannot be stored everywhere, while I believe Estonia should have reserves for at least one heating season somewhere. Ideally two years, as the wood felled in the spring should have time to dry.

Finland has already decided to slow down the peat weaning process and is building a stock for several years. What are we waiting for?

District heating suppliers did not come to us to suggest that this could be a way out.

What about the Luunja boiler plant near Tartu?

We do not have an end date for peat extraction. We only have the long-term goal. If the peat industry sees this as an opportunity and it would be a good way to heat the city of Tartu – why not.

The Finns are also preparing to increase logging volumes in the face of falling Russian imports. The Special Committee for Budgetary Control of the Riigikogu State discussed the complicated situation on Wednesday. Do you stand by your position that logging volumes should not be increased for industrial needs?

There is a debate going on at the Ministry about logging volume and we have received all sorts of suggestions. Some want the entire logging industry to shut down, while others would like to double the volume of logging. We examine all options to find a reasonable compromise.

The decision is also influenced by the fact that the bark beetle has entered our forests. Looking at beetle damage in spruce forests, the damaged areas are far larger than those marked for felling. There will be changes in this regard.

We will also look at other tree species. Last autumn’s sustainable forest management plan would allow for greater logging volumes.

So we’re cutting temporarily for a few more years?

There are several aspects to consider. In addition, we want to get closer to a more even age structure of the forests in Estonia, which will also require increased logging volumes in the coming years. In fact, logging was reduced by 13 percent in 2022 for purely political reasons, so there were no conservation or economic considerations. In that sense, there is room for negotiation.

So the 13 percent cut can be reversed because it was a political decision by the previous minister?

It could happen if we agree. We also need to look at the time frame. It is now breeding season and the forest is quiet. When volumes change, they need to be covered with contracts. This means that the actual clearing work can begin in the autumn.

Will there be a decision in the next few weeks?

It has to be done before Midsummer’s Day, while I’m more hoping that we’ll come to an agreement in May. Nevertheless, I urge the wood sector and consumers to examine their habits and see if it would be possible to use alternative materials, to make better use of existing material?

/…/

The older a forest gets, the more likely it is that a rare species of moss, fungus, plant, or animal will be found, rendering it worthless on the market. The 60 to 110 euros paid to private forest owners, depending on the protection regime, are a pittance compared to the 10,000 euros paid after the final deforestation of a hectare of old-growth forest.

First, we need a debate on whether all of these forests should be turned into protected areas. Perhaps these natural values ​​can be protected in other ways. Support rates could be revised, although this requires further political agreement. Personally, I don’t mind paying people more compensation. /…/

The Land Board now manages around 50,000 hectares of unmanaged forest land. Why not sell these lands? The money could be used to buy protected land currently in private hands?

The ministry is trying to create a situation where forests are owned by RMK and farmland is owned by the board. The process has started and the situation where the Land Board is in charge of large patches of forest will not last long.

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