Campaigners disrupt Drax AGM and take part in stunt at DECC over coal and biomass support

For immediate use Wednesday 22nd April 2015

PRESS RELEASE: Campaigners disrupt Drax AGM and take part in stunt at DECC over coal and biomass support

  • Drax Plc AGM in London today disrupted by campaigner angry at forest and biodiversity impacts
  • Lively protest marks Earth Day at AGM venue to highlight impacts of Drax power station
  • Stunt at DECC sees Energy Minister dressed as “Grimm Reaper of Forests” over support for Drax power station
  • Open letter delivered to DECC calls for an end to support for Drax

Photos available here:
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Link to Open Letter: http://www.biofuelwatch.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/DECC-open-letter-biomass-coal-april-2015.pdf

A day of action on biomass and coal today has seen the AGM of the operators of the UK’s largest power station disrupted by environmental campaigners, as well as a lively demonstration outside the venue. In addition, a stunt was carried out at the Department of Energy and Climate Change, where a cardboard cut out of Energy Minister Ed Davey was dressed as the “Grimm Reaper of Forests” and presented with an open letter. The letter called on DECC to end subsidies for Drax power station and phase out its coal units, and was signed by NGOs from both sides of the Atlantic.

Julie Timbrell, a biomass campaigner, disrupted the AGM by unravelling and reading from a scroll detailing all of the species of birds and other wildlife that are impacted by Drax’s biomass sourcing in the southern US. After being ejected from the AGM, Julie said: “I disrupted the AGM today because I want the Drax executives and shareholders to know what harm they are causing. Biodiversity loss is an issue as important as climate change, and intimately linked to it. Drax has to understand that its operations are harming biodiversity in some of the world’s most important temperate wetland forests.”

Speaking at the the protest today, Biofuelwatch Co-Director and Campaigner with the Coal Action Network Oliver Munnion said: “This is the third year running that we’ve targeted Drax, and this time we’ve also taken our protest to the Department for Energy and Climate Change over its support for the power station. If the UK is serious about bringing down carbon emissions, and cares at all about the communities being dug up by coal mines and the forests being chopped down for biomass, then the UK’s biggest polluter has to go. It really is time to axe Drax.”

Drax power station in Yorkshire is the largest coal-burner in the UK, and is now also the biggest biomass power station in the world. The company has admitted sourcing coal from Colombia, where whole communities have been displaced for huge opencast coal mines. [1] US conservation groups have also shown that Drax is sourcing wood pellets for its converted biomass units that have come from the destruction of some of the world’s most biodiverse temperate forests. [2]

“The forests of the Southern US are some of the most biodiverse ecosystems in the world.” said Adam Macon, Campaign Director with Dogwood Alliance, and a signatory to the open letter. “The demand for wood pellets to feed Drax’s growing appetite has caused devastating effects to our forests and communities. Southerners are becoming outraged when they learn that their forests are being cleatcut, shipped to the UK and burned. We stand united in sending a clear message to DECC that it’s time they axe Drax.”

Speaking at the protest, Richard Solly, coordinator for the London Mining Network and another letter signatory said: “Coal is bad news at every level, from its extraction to its emissions, harming the workers who mine it, the communities displaced by its extraction, the people living where it is burned, and the atmosphere we all rely on. Continuing to subsidise coal at Drax tells the world that Britain is not concerned with climate change, human rights, or even our own air quality. This Earth Day is the perfect moment for DECC to pull its subsidies for Drax and show the way to a sustainable energy future.”

Drax has converted two units to biomass and plans to convert a third by 2016. With three converted units, Drax will require some 7 million tonnes of wood pellets a year, [3] the vast majority of which will be imported. This is equivalent to almost 1.5 times the UK’s total annual wood production. In addition, Drax’s remaining coal units will be burning almost 4 million tonnes of coal a year [4], but would otherwise have had to close down without the partial biomass conversion [5]. By 2016, Drax will be eligible for around £660 million in subsidies each year. [6]

Campaigners also challenged claims that biomass reduces carbon emissions, as evidence shows that it can be more carbon intensive than coal [7]. The scientific community is increasingly speaking out on this point. [8] Demand for biomass is set to sky-rocket over the coming years because of lucrative subsidies being offered to the industry by DECC.

Contact: Biofuelwatch – Oliver Munnion on 07917693337 or oli@biofuelwatch.org.uk
London Mining Network – Liam Barrington-Bush on or liam@londonminingnetwork.org

Notes to Editors:

[1] Human rights abuses in Colombia because of conflict between communities and coal mining companies have been extensively documented by many organsiations over many years, for example:

http://www.globaljustice.org.uk/resources/cerrej%C3%B3n-mine

http://londonminingnetwork.org/2014/06/cerrejon-coal-colombia-an-abusive-marriage-full-of-machismo/

[2] 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” and:
http://www.dogwoodalliance.org/2012/11/new-report-discredits-uk-energy-company-claims-that-
pellets-come-from-wood-waste/
http://www.dogwoodalliance.org/2013/08/press-release-new-maps-reveal-envivas-ahoskie-wood-pellet-facility-threatens-southern-wetland-forests-surrounding-ecosystems-and-wildlife/
http://www.dogwoodalliance.org/campaigns/bioenergy/

and Biofuelwatch’s report “Biomass: the Chain of Destruction” http://www.biofuelwatch.org.uk/2013/chain-of-destruction/

[3] Drax annual pellet requirements: This figure is an estimate based on the following calculations by Biofuelwatch.

Assumptions:
Net Calorific value by mass of 1 kg of wood pellets = 4.8 kWh/kg
(http://www.biomassenergycentre.org.uk/portal/page?_pageid=75,20041&_dad=portal&_sche
ma=PORTAL)
Efficiency of 1 Drax unit = 40%
Capacity of 1 Drax Unit = 630 MWW
Hours of operation per year = 7000

Calculation:
Mass of pellets required to produce 1 MWh thermal = 1000/4.8 = 208.3 kg pellets
Mass required to produce 1 MWh electricity = 208.3/Efficiency = 520.75 kg pellets
Mass of pellets required to produce 1 MWh x Capacity of unit x hours of operation = Mass of
pellets burned in 1 year
520.75 x 630 x 7000 = 2296507500 kg pellets = 2296508 tonnes of pellets = 2.3 million tonnes
of pellets
2.3 million tonnes x 3 units = 6.9 million tonnes of pellets per year

This figure could be an underestimate, as conservative figures for efficiency, generating capacity and hours of operation have been used.

[4] This figure is an estimate based on the following calculation by Biofuelwatch.

Assumptions:
Net Calorific value by mass of 1 kg of thermal coal = 9.2 kWh/kg
(http://www.biomassenergycentre.org.uk/portal/page?_pageid=75,20041&_dad=portal&_sche
ma=PORTAL)
Efficiency of 1 Drax unit = 40%
Capacity of 1 Drax Unit = 660 MWW
Hours of operation per year = 7000

Calculation:
Mass of coal required to produce 1 MWh thermal = 1000/4.8 = 108.7 kg coal
Mass required to produce 1 MWh electricity = 208.3/Efficiency = 271.75 kg coal
Mass of coal required to produce 1 MWh x Capacity of unit x hours of operation = Mass of
coal burned in 1 year
271.75 x 660 x 7000 = 1255485000 kg coal = 1255485 tonnes of coal = 1.3 million tonnes
of coal
1.3 million tonnes x 3 units = 3.9 million tonnes of coal per year

[5] 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).

[6] Subsidy forecasts are Biofuelwatch estimates based on the average market price per ROC for the last 12 months, current electricity wholesale prices, and the assumption that running on biomass, each Drax unit will run at 630 MW capacity (which could be an underestimate):

– One unit conversion to be subsidised through a Contract for Difference (approved by UK government, but still pending State Aid Clearance by the European Commission): £264.55 million per year [subsidy element calculated as strike price minus wholesale price];

– 2 Unit conversions to be funded via ROCs: £185.04 each i.e. £370.08 million per year

In addition, Drax has been granted Capacity Market Payments for two coal units, amounting to £25.6 million per year.

Total: 2 units on biomass getting ROCs plus 1 unit on biomass getting Contract for Difference plus two coal units getting Capacity Market Payments: £660.23 million per year.

[7] For a list of studies into the carbon impacts of biomass electricity, see www.biofuelwatch.org.uk/2015/biomass-resources/. 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

[8] For example see http://docs.nrdc.org/energy/files/ene_13090603a.pdf

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