Europe’s energy crisis drives up firewood prices, raises fears of theft – Winnipeg Free Press

CHISINAU, Moldova (AP) — Tudor Popescu swings his ax on a log, then feeds the split wood into a stove that heats his home in Moldova’s capital. As the nights grow chilly, the pile of firewood has grown around him – his provisions for the coming winter.

In the past, Popescu relied on natural gas for warmth in the morning and firewood in the evening. But gas is now scarcer, creating a crisis in his small Eastern European country.

“I won’t use gas anymore, so it will just be wood,” Popescu said. “But what I have is not enough.”

Pallets of firewood for sale are placed on the roadside outside Chisinau, Moldova, Saturday, October 15, 2022. Europe’s energy crisis, triggered by Russia’s cut in natural gas flows as part of its war against Ukraine, has forced some people to turn to cheaper heating sources like firewood when the weather turns cold. But as more people source and burn wood, prices have skyrocketed, shortages and thefts have been reported, and scams are emerging. (AP Photo/Aurel Obreja)

The energy crisis in Europe, triggered by Russia’s abrupt reduction in natural gas flows as part of its war against Ukraine, has forced some people to turn to cheaper sources of heating such as firewood. as the weather cools. But as more people source and burn wood, prices have skyrocketed, shortages and thefts have been reported, and scams are emerging. Foresters are installing GPS devices in logs to track valuable stocks, and fears are growing over the environmental impact of rising air pollution and tree felling.

In the former Soviet republic of Moldova, leaders fear this winter could be devastating for much of its population due to the high cost of electricity and heating, with European natural gas prices roughly tripling from where they were at the start of 2021 despite August’s record slump. . Europe’s poorest country, with pro-Western aspirations but part of its territory controlled by Russian troops, recently saw Russian energy giant Gazprom cut its natural gas supplies by 30% and threaten to other cuts.

The demand for firewood is not limited to the poorest countries like Moldova, but has also swept over the richer regions of Europe. The state forests of Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic are seeing a much higher demand for the limited quantities of firewood they sell as part of their sustainable forest management.

Often it comes from people who have never ordered firewood before and seem unaware that it needs to be purchased two years in advance so it can dry out enough to burn in wood stoves, according to the forest service of the state of Hesse in southwestern Germany.

German rangers are also seeing more and more people picking up fallen wood in forests, often unaware that it is illegal.

Czech state forests, which sell wood only for household consumption, had to limit the amount of firewood sold to individuals to avoid speculative purchases.

In Poland, the demand for small firewood from state forests increased by 46% and that for large firewood increased by 42% at the end of August compared to the previous year. This was even before fall, when the demand for firewood is highest.

“There is, of course, an increased interest in firewood in forest districts because it is the cheapest fuel available today,” said Michal Gzowski, spokesman for State Forests in Poland. “Small firewood is probably the cheapest heating material in EU countries.”

He said firewood theft, which has always existed to some extent, is on the rise.

To deter theft, the forest department of the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia is experimenting with hiding GPS tracking devices in logs, spokeswoman Nicole Fiegler said.

There has been no sudden eruption of large-scale theft, but recent price increases have raised fears among small forest plot owners who could suffer significant losses if a stack of logs were stolen.

“It’s more of a situation of anxiety and fear,” Fiegler said, noting the increased value of firewood.

Foresters in the neighboring region of Hesse have been using GPS trackers since 2013 and claim to have been able to solve several thefts this way.

Austrian police warned last week of a significant increase in the number of fraudsters claiming to sell firewood and wood pellets online, while several businesses across the country were raided on suspicion of to have rigged the prices.

The German Pellet Institute also warns buyers to beware of bogus sellers who demand payment in advance and then disappear.

The German statistics agency says the prices of firewood and wood pellets made from sawdust that can be used in central heating in homes rose by more than 85% in August compared to the year former.

Pellet prices per tonne fell 2.6% in October but remain nearly 200% higher than a year ago, according to the Pellet Institute. Still, heating with pellets is cheaper than natural gas for those who are equipped to burn them, he points out. Gas costs 20.9 cents per kilowatt hour of heating, while pellets cost 14.88 cents.

In the UK, firewood prices are also rising.

“We’ve seen a massive increase in demand” as energy costs rise, said Nic Snell, chief executive of Certainly Wood, which bills itself as the UK’s largest supplier of firewood, selling about 20,000 tons of wood per year.

Snell estimated that his company’s kiln-dried hardwood is 15-20% more expensive than last year and “could get more expensive as the weather gets colder.”

It said demand for its domestic firewood had been boosted by more expensive imported wood from countries like Latvia and Lithuania. Transport costs, mainly for fuel, have driven up the price of imports, which were once cheaper than UK timber but are now more expensive.

In Denmark, the demand for wood-burning stoves increases with the firewood itself. Danish marketplace DBA said searches for wood pellets had skyrocketed by more than 1,300% in the past year.

The government and environmentalists have warned Danes planning to burn firewood to consider the risks: fire can be hazardous to health, while smoke contributes to particulate pollution.

There is also the detrimental environmental impact of cutting down more trees.

Egzona Shala, head of an environmental organization in Kosovo, where electricity prices have skyrocketed, says the felling of forest trees there has increased dramatically. His group, EcoZ, monitors forests in mountainous areas and has found people illegally cutting down trees at 5 a.m. in some cases. The firewood is then sold around the capital.

Often those that are cut are young trees. The forests, she said, are subject to “vulgar deforestation without any criteria or control”.

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Gera reported from Warsaw, Poland, and McHugh from Frankfurt, Germany. AP reporters Monika Scislowska in Warsaw; Kelvin Chan in London; Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark; Philipp Jenne in Austria; Llazar Semini in Tirana, Albania; and Karel Janicek in Prague contributed.

Christy J. Olson