Drax is burning more wood than any other company in the UK. So far they have converted one of their six power station units to biomass and they want to convert two more. This would allow them to burn pellets made from almost 16 million tonnes of wood every year – 1.6 times the UK’s entire annual wood production.
As their Chair pointed out during their 2013 AGM: “Just because we’re going with biomass doesn’t mean we don’t like coal”. Indeed not – without partly converting to biomass, Drax would have to close down because they cannot meet new EU rules on sulphur dioxide (SO2) emissions. Although burning biomass results in similar levels of air pollution as burning coal, is releases much less SO2. Even with a 50% conversion to biomass, Drax will still be one of the two largest coal-burning power stations in the UK.
Drax has gone to great lengths to paint their biomass burning as ‘sustainable’ and speak about the ‘residues’ and ‘energy crops’ they are supposedly using. Yet in 2012, a Freedom of Information request revealed that they advised the government that there is only one type of biomass they can burn in large quantities: Wood from slow-growing trees with little bark. This rules out most residues, which contain a lot of bark.
Drax’s main suppliers are Enviva and Green Circle Bioenergy in the US and Pinnacle Pellets in Canada. Enviva has been turning wood from clearcut ancient swamp forests into pellets – you can read their profile to find out more. Pinnacle Pellets are British Columbia’s biggest pellet producer – you can find out more about them by reading about the Wood Pellet Association of Canada. Green Circle owns a large pellet mill in Florida and, like Enviva, they turn whole trees into pellets.
According to the US-based NGO Dogwood Alliance “the sourcing area for Green Circle Energy includes the southeastern conifer forests of north Florida, one of the most biologically rich eco-regions in North America. These forests are one of the last strongholds for the endangered longleaf pine forest and threatened and endangered species such as the red-cockaded woodpecker and gopher tortoise”.
Drax has been heavily involved in lobbying the Government to give the biomass industry all the subsidies they want. They have done this through the Renewable Energy Association’s Back Biomass Campaign, employing the corporate PR company Edelman and co-financing the Secretariat of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Biomass.