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Wood from the Carolinas is increasingly being used overseas for energy. While the industry creates jobs, communities are also paying a price. Our ongoing coverage looks at the local and global policy debate and the communities feeding the world’s appetite for wood energy.

Wood pellet maker Enviva plans to double production as it lands its first U.S. deal

Logs are stacked up awaiting processing at Enviva's wood pellet plant in Northampton County.
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Logs are stacked up awaiting processing at Enviva's wood pellet plant in Northampton County.

Wood pellet maker Enviva says it has landed its first U.S. customer and is speeding up plans to double production capacity in the Southeast and mid-Atlantic.

Enviva is the world's largest supplier of wood pellets, which it sells primarily to European power companies to be burned for electricity. But last week, it announced its first U.S. deal— a memorandum of understanding with an unnamed company that plans to turn wood pellets into sustainable aviation fuel in the Southeast and possibly California.

In November, Enviva announced its first aviation fuels-related contractin Europe.

Enviva also says that because of strong demand, including in Europe and Asia, it plans to double production capacity over the next five years. That includes building two new plants per year across North Carolina, Mississippi, Georgia and Virginia.

An Enviva spokesperson said nobody was available to comment Tuesday.

“We are extremely excited about the growth in Enviva’s business and our first MOU with a U.S. customer ," Chairman and CEO John Keppler said in aJan. 19newsrelease. "Efforts around the world to decarbonize in order to meet net-zero by 2050 continue to accelerate, giving companies like ours the tremendous opportunity to grow even more rapidly."

Keppler said Enviva sees an opportunity to expand sales among companies in various industries that are seeking to reduce their reliance on coal, including steel, cement, lime and biofuels.

Maryland-based Enviva buys timber and turns it into wood pellets at plants in six states, including four in North Carolina. It ships wood pellets from its port facilities at Wilmington.

The expansion plans call for at least one new plant in southeastern North Carolina, though the company hasn't mentioned the exact location.

Last week's announcement also said Eniva is considering whether to build wood pellet plants in California. That would put it closer to Asia and near potential West Coast customers. Enviva also said cutting trees in areas of high fire danger could "mitigate devastating wildfire risk and improve climate benefits of forests in the West."

The wood pellet industry is growing because wood pellets are classified as "renewable energy" and seen as climate-friendly.

But environmentalists dispute those "climate-friendly" claims and say the plants also bring environmental justice concerns because they're often located in low-income counties and communities of color.

Enviva will announce its latest financial results on March 1. It has already told investors it expects to report a loss for 2021. It shares are down 5% over the past five days.

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David Boraks previously covered climate change and the environment for WFAE. See more at www.wfae.org/climate-news. He also has covered housing and homelessness, energy and the environment, transportation and business.