Drax and the biomass smokescreen

Frances Howe of Biofuelwatch tells of the environmental dangers of burning biomass for energy

Frances Howe
Tue 27 Feb 2018

Drax power station in Yorkshire - once famous as the UK's largest coal burner - has partially converted from burning coal to biomass, helped by government subsidies of ?1.5 million every day paid from a surcharge on all our electricity bills. Drax hails this as a green success story. So, why are climate and forest campaigners unhappy?

Drax burns pellets made from 13 million tonnes of wood every year. UK annual wood production is 11 million tonnes, so the overwhelming majority of biomass burnt here is imported. 59 per cent of Drax's pellets come from the US, many sourced from biodiverse coastal forests in the south east of the country. These ecosystems are home to endemic plant species, bears, salamanders and a variety of bird species. However, these forests are being felled and replaced with plantations to feed EU and UK demand for 'sustainable' biomass.

Drax's biggest pellet supplier in the US is Enviva, a company which has been criticised for destroying forests and forsiting its pellet mills in communities already disadvantaged by industrial pollution and environmental injustice, often poorer or majority African American communities.

None of this makes sense for the climate. Drax's biomass units emit more CO2 than its coal units per unit of electricity. Drax and the government ignore all this CO2, claiming new trees will reabsorb the carbon. This is no different from arguing coal can be carbon-neutral if we plant enough trees! At best, forests will take many decades to recover and absorb that carbon; at worst, they never will.

Without subsidies, Drax would not be economically viable. Biomass subsidies enable Drax to keep burning coal too, and now they are helping with new plans to build the UK's biggest gas power station capacity, keeping the UK dependent on fossil fuels.

Biofuelwatch stands in solidarity with the communities and ecosystems endangered by Drax and the biomass industry. We continue to fight for a more sustainable energy system in which we use less energy and where what we use comes from genuinely renewable sources such as wind, waves or sun.

Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s needs, but not every man’s greed – Mahatma Gandhi