Chris Huhne’s new job sheds light on cosy relationship between DECC and energy companies

Biofuelwatch media release – for immediate use Thursday 15th August 2013
Media Contact: Oliver Munnion 07917693337

Chris Huhne’s new job sheds light on cosy relationship between DECC and energy companies

The recent revelation that former Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Chris Huhne has secured a job worth £100,000 a year with Zilkha Biomass Energy has been met with cynicism by bioenergy campaigners.

Oliver Munnion, Campaigner for Biofuelwatch said: “Chris Huhne is being rewarded for his ardent support for the biomass industry during his time as Energy and Climate Change Secretary. He oversaw vast subsidies and other support mechanisms being put in place for bioenergy which have resulted in a rush for biomass that could see the UK’s demand for wood rise to 90 million tonnes a year – nine times the UK’s annual production.

“Plans for coal to biomass power station conversions in the UK alone will create a demand for wood pellets almost double what was produced globally in 2010 – good news for companies like Zilkha who will benefit directly from these misguided renewable energy policies.” [1]

Bioenergy already accounts for the bulk of energy classed as renewable in the UK. The UK Bioenergy Strategy [2] – supported by Huhne – made biomass electricity the keystone of the UK’s renewable energy strategy. The strategy took evidence from an industry report that claimed that there is a vast future potential for especially imported ‘sustainable’ biomass.

Campaigners say that energy companies have far too cosy a relationship with the Department for Energy and Climate Change, and that their vast lobbying power skews renewable energy policy.

Data obtained by Biofuelwatch through a Freedom of Information request to the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) in May this year highlighted how the then Energy Minister John Hayes colluded with Drax over subsidies for biomass, raising concerns over the degree of influence that Drax Plc as a lobbying power has over government policy. [3] Drax is currently converting half of its generating capacity to biomass.

Sophie Bastable, campaigner for Biofuelwatch said: “What we’re seeing is collusion between Energy Ministers and Drax over subsidies, showing that Government support through subsidies was a done deal way before it was agreed in parliament. Drax were confident enough of government support in July 2012, well before the actual decision, to look for funding for the infrastructure necessary for their conversion and to issue confidence notes to investors on the ROC banding review outcome.”

Additionally, Drax Plc and Eggborough Power Ltd – with planning permission for a full biomass conversion – are funding consultancy firm Luther Pendragon to act as secretariat to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Biomass. The remit of the group is to “explore all aspects of biomass use for the production of renewable energy, including: sustainability criteria, environmental impact, logistics, farming, forestry and its efficiency as a source of energy.”

Sophie Bastable said: “This government’s energy policy is guided by the lobbying power of big business, and certainly not public opinion, science or a genuine desire to make energy generation more sustainable. Huhne’s new job shows how Government support for industry is awarded.”


Notes to Editors:

[1] So far, operators of five power stations have obtained planning permission for conversions. Between them, they would need to burn around five times as much wood as the UK produces in total every year. This is twice as many wood pellets as were produced worldwide in 2010. The five power stations are Rugley (GDF Suez and Mitsui & Co), Ironbridge (E.On), Drax (Drax Plc), Eggborough (Eggborough Power Ltd) and Alcan Lynemouth (recently bought by RWE Npower). Another conversion, of Tilbury B has been abandoned by RWE Npower. Altogether, those five power stations would need over 28.6 million tonnes of pellets made from almost 50.3 million tonnes of green wood (25.15 million tonnes of pellets). By comparison, total UK wood production is only 10 million tonnes annually. And total global wood pellet production was just 14 million tonnes in 2010 – which is why energy companies are now heavily investing in pellet plants overseas.


[3] In June and July 2012 Drax and DECC corresponded about the timing of the release of the Renewables Obligation banding review proposals, with Drax pressing DECC to hasten the process as their share price had fallen substantially.