New Internationalist

Taking DRAXtic action on biomass


On 24 April, Biofuelwatch and 16 supporting organizations will be gathering outside the London AGM of Drax Plc, the company running Britain’s largest power station, to say no to big biomass.

Drax Plc say they are converting to burn ‘zero-carbon, renewable biomass’ but we at Biofuelwatch say they are cashing in on subsidies to replace one disaster with another. We are asking people to join us on the 24 April to take DRAXtic action on deforestation, landgrabbing and climate change.

Why campaign against this company’s efforts to go green?

forest felling in the US
Forest clear-felling in the southern US Dogwood Alliance

The short answer is because Drax’s conversion to biomass is about painting a green façade onto Britain’s biggest polluter to keep it operating and generating profit for its shareholders. Biomass emits up to 50 per cent more carbon per unit of electricity than coal – yes, that’s more carbon, not less.

Add to this the fact that the wood they import often comes from the clear-felling of ancient biodiverse forests in the US and Canada, and the fact that these forests are often replaced by monoculture plantations of fast-growing trees (turning our carbon sinks and biodiversity banks into cash crops) and you’ve got a big biomess.

What will they get from the government for all this devastation? A slap on the back and subsidies to the tune of more than £3 billion ($4.6 billion) in the name of meeting renewables targets and ‘keeping the lights on’. And who pays for these subsidies? Bill payers do – at a time of rising fuel poverty and record energy company profits.

Drax as a power station is a dinosaur operating at less that 40 per cent efficiency. Under European Union pollution directives it should have a very limited life-span. Instead, Drax and four other coal-fired power stations are being given a new lease of live through biomass conversions and co-firing.

Coal to biomass conversions: what’s it all about?

Under the guise of ‘renewable energy’, burning wood in power stations has become a massive growth industry in Britain – so big that current plans for power station conversions will see six times as much wood as Britain produces in a year being burnt, and twice as many wood pellets as were produced world-wide in 2010. Planning consent has already been granted to five coal power stations to convert, either partly or completely, to biomass. The biggest is Drax in Yorkshire, set to become the world’s biggest biomass power station.

protest poster
The protest will be held on 24 April Biofuelwatch

So what are the issues then?

Current plans will involve burning trees and other wood products on an unprecedented scale. So far, most wood pellets imported to Britain have come from Canada and the southern US, with some sourced from the Baltic States, Russia, Portugal and South Africa, where native forests rich in wildlife and carbon are being destroyed. The rate of destruction will become much worse as demand grows, and in the longer term, energy companies are looking at imports from Brazil, West and Central Africa and other regions of the global South, where trees grow faster and land is cheaper.

Power stations burning wood emit up to 50 per cent more carbon dioxide than those burning coal, but companies and policy makers get away with ignoring this carbon, claiming that biomass is renewable and low-carbon because new trees grow back in the place of ones which have been cut down. But it takes decades to grow a mature tree and just minutes to burn one, creating a massive ‘carbon debt’, where carbon dioxide that was once stored in trees is stored exactly where we don't want it – in the atmosphere.

Green Investment Bank – bank on biodiversity, not biomass!

In December last year the Green Investment Bank (GIB) gave Drax a £100 million loan towards its conversion. The GIB was set up by the British government to help finance so-called environmentally friendly projects, but its first big investment was big biomass. It’s expected to channel another £500 million ($153.8 million) towards bioenergy projects, a massive contribution towards the financing of this quickly expanding industry.

Tell the GIB to stop banking on big biomass here.

Join us on the 24 April at the Drax AGM to protest against Coal – Biomass Conversions! Find out how to take DRAXtic Action here at the Biofuelwatch website.

Comments on Taking DRAXtic action on biomass

Leave your comment