Wood pellets are a form of biomass that is versatile, concentrated and easily transportable. But making wood pellets is dirty and energy-intensive. After tree wood is dried and ground into sawdust, it is heated and pressed through molds to form small, cylindrical chunks of dense wood fiber. This form of biomass offers a least two advantages for energy producers. First, converting coal-fired power plants to burn wood pellets is relatively easy. Second, with much of the moisture removed, pellets are more economical to transport than raw wood. This is a significant benefit, since virtually all the industrial pellets made in the US are shipped overseas.
Belinda Joyner describes her home of Northampton County as a dumping ground for undesirable uses—hog farms, landfills. Northampton was also slated to host the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s compressor station before the project was canceled. When Joyner stood at a podium in the North Carolina legislative building on Wednesday, she was most concerned about wood pellet facilities. “We have other states that have taken into consideration the cumulative impact, the health impact, on these communities and they’re saying no to these companies that are coming,” Joyner said. “You know what? North Carolina has become a cesspool, because everything that everyone else doesn’t want, we don’t have the laws to protect us.”