New support for biomass electricity will mean more forest destruction and land-grabbing, say campaigners

Clearcutting of coastal native hardwood forests in North Carolina – Drax is burning pellets from native forest logging in this region. Photo: Dogwood Alliance

[Update: On 19th December, DECC omitted Eggborough from the list of projects that would receive early guarantees of new subsidies, i.e. Contracts for Difference.  They state that they will  make a decision about Eggborough in 2014.  MGT Power and Drax remain on the list.]

Campaigners have reacted angrily to Government announcements on Wednesday setting out increased support for new biomass power capacity through “strike prices”. [1] High levels of long-term subsidies have been guaranteed for the partial conversion of Drax and Eggborough Power stations to biomass (allowing both to avoid having to shut down), for the biomass conversion of the currently closed Lynemouth Power station and for a large new biomass plant proposed by MGT Power at Teesside Port. Coal to biomass conversion strike price is £105 p MWh. Dedicated biomass will get £125 p MWh guaranteed.

MGT Power’s plans have already been implicated in land-grabbing in Brazil for eucalyptus plantations, [2] whilst Drax has been shown to have burnt pellets sourced from the clear-cutting of ancient wetland forests in the southern US. [3] Overall, further support was announced for more than 4GW of biomass capacity, which will see operators burning almost 30 million tonnes of green wood a year and receiving approximately £ 1 billion in subsidies for this annually. [4] Drax has already been guaranteed around £198 million in subsidies for biomass conversion under an existing subsidy scheme.  30 million tonnes of wood is equivalent to three times the UK’s  total annual wood production.

Oliver Munnion, Biofuelwatch co-director said: “This announcement speaks volumes about the true nature of UK renewable energy policy. Billions are being thrown at old, inefficient coal-fired power stations in a desperate attempt to keep them generating, whilst new, equally inefficient dedicated plants implicated in land-grabbing are also receiving support. Burning 3 times as much wood as the UK produces every year is not the way to reduce emissions – it’s a smoke screen for the business-as-usual agendas of Government and energy companies.”

Almuth Ernsting, Biofuelwatch co-director said: “Our new report, published only last month, clearly showed the destruction being caused right now by UK biomass policy. Far from reducing support for this industry, DECC has done the opposite and announced the next generation of generous subsidies. Whilst industry and government slap each other on the back for “going green”, communities in Brazil are being robbed of their land for monoculture eucalyptus plantations and ancient wetland forests in the southern US are being destroyed. In the case of Brazil, this destruction isn’t even to supply existing plants, but is happening on the back of speculative investments created by DECC’s flawed policy decisions.”

As part of the announcements, Yorkshire-based coal-fired power station Drax has received support for the conversion to biomass of its second and third units; Eggborough, also in Yorkshire, has been guaranteed support for their proposed 75% conversion; and Npower/RWE’s Lynemouth Power Station in the North East has also been given the same level of support. MGT Power’s Teesside dedicated biomass plant also received full support, although construction work has not begun and uncertainly remains about sourcing and heat delivery plans.

Put together, the total annual requirement of green wood for these plants will be 27.8 million tonnes, three times the current annual UK wood production.


Duncan Law 07958 635181

Almuth Ernsting 0131-4454231 or 0131-6212600




List of qualifying projects

[2] See report by World Rainforest Movement and CEPEDES “Eucalyptus Plantations for Energy: A case study of Suzano’s plantations for wood pellet exports in the Baixo Parnaíba region, Maranhão, Brazil”

[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 Enviva. For more information see Dogwood Alliance campaign “Our forests aren’t fuel” and Biofuelwatch’s new report “Biomass: the Chain of Destruction”

[4] This figure has been estimated by calculating the difference between current wholesale electricity prices and the strike prices set in the DECC announcement, and only covers the plants listed in it. Biofuelwatch will be conducting a more thorough analysis of subsidy levels awarded in this announcement shortly.