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Norbord accused of exploitation

An investigation by Enagri suggests that Canada-based panel board manufacturer Norbord's lobbying against biomass energy was motivated by expediency and profits.

Bioenergy Insight has learnt that Norbord recently paid an advertising agency to lobby MPs and place adverts in the National Press criticising the use of sustainable UK timber sources for energy generation.

On its website, Enagri says, Norbord claims government support for bioenergy has increased average wood prices by 60%. However, official statistics published by the Forestry Commission has revealed that average timber prices in the UK are actually between 29 and 42% lower than 20 years ago, in real terms.

Enagri's investigation has also revealed that Norbord's profits are on the up, rising five-fold at the end of April 2013 compared with the previous year. Norbord says that its European factories, including three in the UK, are operating at full capacity to meet rising demand. Additionally, its sourcing of raw materials in a bid to cut costs saved it $26 million last year.

Commenting on these findings, Richard Crowhurst, editor of the Enagri BioenergyWeekly, says: 'With such a large rise in its profits and European output at a time when UK timber prices are falling and forestry investors are losing money on their day-to-day activities, the fact that Norbord is lobbying MPs and the public to oppose the use of biomass to generate low carbon renewable energy on the grounds that it rises wood prices is at best opportunistic and at worse deeply cynical.

'Unfortunately it looks like a debate on the pros and cons of using biomass as part of the UK's energy mix is being driven by people with vested market interests and large advertising budgets, rather than science and common sense.'