Anti-biomass and coal Campaigners disrupt Drax AGM and call for UK’s most polluting power station to close

For immediate use Wednesday 23rd April 2014

Photographs available here: http://www.biofuelwatch.org.uk/2014/drax-protest-photos/

Media Contacts:

Oliver Munnion on 07917693337 or oli.munnion@biofuelwatch.org.uk
Duncan Law 07958635181 or dl@duncanlaw.co.uk
Almuth Ernsting 01316232600 or biofuelwatch@ymail.com

Anti-biomass and coal Campaigners disrupt Drax AGM and call for UK’s most polluting power station to close

Campaigners have disrupted Drax Plc’s AGM in London today, calling for the power station to be closed down because of the environmental and social impacts of the biomass and coal that it is burning. Three campaigners were removed from the meeting after unfurling a banner reading “No to biomass and coal – shut down Drax” and accusing company directors of misleading the public over claims that their biomass conversion is low-carbon, renewable energy. The protest happened against a backdrop of falling company share prices as the UK Government announced that it would not be awarding a lucrative new subsidy scheme, a Contract for Difference, to Drax’s second converted unit, sparking investment uncertainty. [1]

Biofuelwatch campaigner Duncan Law was one of the campaigners removed from the AGM today. He said: “Drax is calling itself the world’s biggest renewable energy power station, but looking past the shiny green façade you see it’s actually still a giant incinerator, only now fed on ancient wetland forests as well as opencast coal. And what’s more, it will be pumping out more CO2 than ever despite company claims that it’s doing the opposite.

It is clear that Drax and the UK government aren’t listening to evidence that big biomass power stations in the UK are fuelling forest destruction in the southern US and increasing carbon emissions. We feel we have no choice but to take this further action to highlight how, in the name of renewable energy, energy companies and their allies in government are causing yet another environmental disaster.”

Biofuelwatch [2] and supporting organisations also held a demonstration outside Drax Plc’s AGM for a second year running. 40 people held banners reading “Big Biomass fuels Deforestation, Landgrabbing and Climate Change” and chanting slogans such as “Drax, Drax, what do you say? How many trees have you killed today?”

Recent evidence has shown that Drax is sourcing wood pellets for its partial biomass conversion that have come from the destruction of some of the world’s most biodiverse temperate forests. [3] Campaigners are also challenging claims that biomass reduces carbon emissions, as recent studies show that it can be more carbon intensive than coal. [4] Demand for biomass is set to sky-rocket over the coming years.

Since its last AGM Drax has converted and opened one unit and burned some 5 million tonnes of mostly imported, green wood – a figure equivalent to half of the UK’s annual wood production. At full capacity this unit alone could have received £190 million in subsidies. [5]

“Drax is just the tip of the iceberg.” Said Oliver Munnion, campaigner with Biofuelwatch and the Coal Action Network, outside the Drax AGM today. “In the UK alone, current anticipated demand for wood because of biomass electricity is 7 times the UK’s current annual wood production. This won’t come from renewable, clean or green sources, but largely from imports and at the expense of vital forest ecosystems.”

“Drax’s conversion actually allows it to burn more coal long into the future. Even after the conversion they’ll be burning some 3.7 million tonnes of coal every year from opencast mines in the UK and imported from places like Colombia, where communities have been forced off their land for expanding mines. Biomass isn’t about renewable energy, it’s about keeping old, polluting power stations running, when they should be closing down.” [6]

Drax’s biomass plans will require pellets made from more than 15 million tonnes of wood each year [7], making it the biggest biomass-burning power station in the world. By comparison, the UK’s total annual wood production is only 10 million tonnes. A growing number of scientific studies show that burning biomass actually produces more emissions than the coal it replaces for decades. Serious environmental concerns have already been raised about the destruction of highly biodiverse forests in the Southern US which are being exacerbated by Drax’s growing demand for wood pellets.

Notes to Editors:

[1] See for example: http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/d785d812-cab7-11e3-9c6a-00144feabdc0.html

[2] Biofuelwatch is a not-for-profit grassroots organisation set up to raise awareness of the negative impacts of industrial biofuels and bioenergy http://biofuelwatch.org.uk/

[3] US-based Dogwood Alliance have extensively documented the use of whole trees and destruction of ancient wetland forests in the southern US by Drax and E.On pellet supplier Envia. For more information see Dogwood Alliance campaign “Our forests aren’t fuel” http://www.dogwoodalliance.org/campaigns/bioenergy/ and Biofuelwatch’s new report “Biomass: the Chain of Destruction” http://www.biofuelwatch.org.uk/2013/chain-of-destruction/

[4] For a list of studies into the carbon impacts of biomass electricity, see www.biofuelwatch.org.uk/resources-on-biomass. In addition, the report “Dirtier than coal?” published by RSPB, Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace can be found here www.rspb.org.uk/Images/biomass_report_tcm9-326672.pdf

[5] These figures are estimates based on Biofuelwatch calculations. They have been calculated assuming 630MW generating capacity of the first converted unit, 7000 hrs of operation and average ROC values. Drax have not published their own figures for wood use or subsidy levels.

[6] According to Secretary of State Vince Cable, without converting to biomass and the loan from the Green Investment Bank that is helping to finance it, Drax “would have closed down because it has to meet European rules on coal use and it wouldn’t have been able to survive” (http://www.ft.com/cms/s/d46bfe86-b7e9-11e2-bd62-00144feabdc0,Authorised=false.html?_i_location=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.ft.com%2Fcms%2Fs%2F0%2Fd46bfe86-b7e9-11e2-bd62-00144feabdc0.html&_i_referer=http%3A%2F%2Ftech.groups.yahoo.com%2Fgroup%2Fbiofuelwatch%2Fmessage%2F5679#axzz2T9zy94Nu).

[7] This figure is a Biofuelwatch estimate based on the expected thermal efficiency of the plant, the average calorific value of pellets and the anticipated hours of operation of the plant. Drax have not published an equivalent figure.

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