Sustainability certificate obtained by Drax ‘reveals UK biomass sustainability standards to be a scam’, say environmental campaigners

Photo: Dogwood Alliance

5th August 2016 – Biofuelwatch [1], an environmental campaigning organisation warns that a sustainability certificate obtained by Drax plc, whose Yorkshire power station burns more wood than any other plant in the world, reveals the UK’s biomass sustainability standards to be a scam.
Drax has this week been awarded sustainability certification through the Sustainable Biomass Partnership (SBP) [2], which is chaired by Drax’s own Chief Executive, Dorothy Thompson and which is run entirely by energy companies. This certification [3] covers all of the wood pellets produced by Drax at their two pellet mills in Louisiana and Mississippi. All or most of those pellets are burned in Drax power station, which attracts more than £1 million in renewable electricity subsidies every single day [4]. Drax is close to converting a third out of six power station units to biomass, with the remainder being run on coal.


Auditors who carried out the sustainability assessment through the SBP concluded that logging practices across seven million hectares of forests and tree plantations (more than three times the total size of Wales) complied with the SBP’s standards based on site visits that lasted a total of just seven hours. Their overall assessment relied largely on ‘evaluation reports’ written by Drax themselves, with little if any scrutiny of their accuracy. The supposedly ‘independent’ auditors further concluded that the risks of biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation of forests across the whole area was low, even though the region is home to some of the world’s most biodiverse temperate forest and aquatic ecosystems, which are being destroyed and degraded at an alarming rate [5].

Official guidance to the UK’s biomass sustainability standards [6], which were introduced by the Government in December 2015, recognises SBP certification as the world’s only certification scheme which provides conclusive evidence that biomass burned in the UK is sustainable and thereby eligible for public subsidies.
Almuth Ernsting, co-director of Biofuelwatch, states: “It is hardly surprising that a sustainability certification scheme created and run by energy companies and chaired by the CEO of Drax would ensure that Drax’s own pellets are certified sustainable. What is shocking is the fact that the UK government allows such flawed certificates as proof that biomass meets their sustainability standards and thus merits massive public subsidies. Far from guaranteeing the sustainability of bioenergy, those standards provide nothing more than industry greenwash. “
Biofuelwatch is campaigning for an end to all subsidies for Drax, on the grounds that biomass electricity makes climate change worse, damages forests and biodiversity, and pollutes local people.
Notes:
[1] Biofuelwatch is a UK/US organisation which researches and campaigns on the impacts of large-scale industrial bioenergy: www.biofuelwatch.org.uk
[2] www.sustainablebiomasspartnership.org/
[3] www.sustainablebiomasspartnership.org/approvals-and-certifications/certificate-holders/amite-bioenergy-llc and www.sustainablebiomasspartnership.org/approvals-and-certifications/certificate-holders/morehouse-bioenergy-llc
[4] See www.biofuelwatch.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/axedrax-briefing-v2.pdf for details of Drax’s subsidies.
[5] See www.dogwoodalliance.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/Vanishing-Treasures-Brief-Wetland-Forests-Initiative.pdf
[6] See www.legislation.gov.uk/ukdsi/2015/9780111138359/pdfs/ukdsi_9780111138359_en.pdf for the biomass sustainability and greenhouse gas standards, and www.ofgem.gov.uk/system/files/docs/2016/03/ofgem_ro_sustainability_criteria_guidance_march_16.pdf for the official Guidance. Note that the sustainability standards refer to the ‘land criteria’ in Schedule 3 of the Renewables Obligation Order 2015, which, amongst other things, state that biodiversity and the ‘health and vitality of ecosystems’ must be maintained. These are separate from greenhouse gas standards, which are set out in a different Schedule, and which are not covered by sustainability certification schemes such as the SBP.

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