Row escalates over UK biomass ambitions

The biggest power plant in the UK Drax’s conversion to biomass condemned by campaigners.

By Anders Lorenzen


What the UK government have described as a cleaner and greener future for British coal power plants, has been met with anger by campaigners.

The UK government is claiming that Drax, the UK’s largest power plant, will be one of Europe’s cleanest renewable energy generators. The power plant is in the process of being converted into burning biomass with the potential for new future generation on the site to be based on truly clean coal.
Energy and Climate Change Secretary, Edward Davey, opened the Drax coal-to-biomass conversion plant, and announced the Government was awarding funding to further the White Rose CCS project, also based at the site. At Drax, the £700 million planned conversion project will burn wood pellets rather than coal. Drax calculates that this will reduce carbon emissions by 80 per cent compared to coal. The facilities opened today will provide enough low carbon power to supply the equivalent of around 1 million homes, and help to safeguard 1,200 jobs and many more in the supply chain and in local communities.
But this move have angered campaign group Biofuelwatch. The group are saying that the move could further worsen land grabbing in Brazil for eucalyptus plantations, which the company that runs Drax MGT Power have already been implicated in, and that Drax has been shown to have burnt pellets sourced from the clear-cutting of ancient wetland forests in the southern US.

Oliver Munnion, Biofuelwatch co-director said: “This announcement speaks volumes about the true nature of UK renewable energy policy. Billions are being thrown at old, inefficient coal-fired power stations in a desperate attempt to keep them generating, whilst new, equally inefficient dedicated plants implicated in land-grabbing are also receiving support. Burning 3 times as much wood as the UK produces every year is not the way to reduce emissions – it’s a smoke screen for the business-as-usual agendas of Government and energy companies.”

Biofuelwatch are today, together with Friends of the Earth, UKWIN (UK Without Incineration Network) and the Campaign against Climate Change, delivering a joint letter to HM Treasury, calling for biomass to electricity and incineration projects to be rejected from the ‘pre-qualified’ shortlist for loan guarantees under the UK Guarantee Scheme. The group says that in supporting these projects the Treasury is investing in increasing emissions and pollution, and destroying sensitive ecosystems.

Friends of the Earth’s Kenneth Richter commented: “Far from being a green form of energy the burning of trees for electricity can result in even higher climate emissions than fossil fuels and poses a threat to the world’s forests. Keeping dirty, outdated coal-fired power stations alive by now adding trees in the furnace is the worst possible outcome for the environment.

Meanwhile Ed Davey is convinced that biomass and investing in carbon and capture technology (CCS) will play a crucial role in lowering the UK’s carbon emissions, at the opening of the power plant’s project the Environment and Energy Secretary stated: “It’s crucial that we safeguard our energy security by generating green electricity on UK soil that protects bill payers from volatile foreign energy imports.
“Our coal industry has powered Britain for more than a century, and today we’re seeing a clear roadmap for its future – whether by converting existing coal plants to cleaner fuels, or building state-of-the-art power stations that mean coal is truly clean. While at the same time creating new green jobs for Yorkshire.’’
Sub edited by Charlotte Paton

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