Drax AGM targeted over biomass conversion plans

2UPDATE: Please also see the International Open Letter: Converting coal plans to burn biomass only replaces one disaster with another

For a background briefing about Coal-to-Biomass Conversions in the UK, click here.

For immediate use 24th April 2013

50 people are taking part in a demonstration and rally outside the annual general meeting of Drax Plc, at the Grocers’ Hall in London, organised by Biofuelwatch [1] and supported by 16 other groups [2]. Demonstrators are chanting “Drax Drax, what do you say? How many trees have you killed today?” and holding banners reading “Big Biomass: Fuelling Deforestation, Land-grabbing and Climate Disaster”, “Big Biomass is Greenwash not Renewable Energy” and “Drax the Destroyer!”. Biofuelwatch has called the demonstration to oppose Drax power station’s plans to convert half of its generating capacity to biomass, and to highlight the impacts that this will have in terms of increased deforestation, land-grabbing and carbon emissions.

Natalie Bennet, Leader of the Green Party in England and Wales attended the demonstration and addressed the crowd. She said: “I made the time to come today as this is a really important issue. We absolutely must stand against big biomass. We need to write “decarbonisation by 2030” into the Energy Bill and provide for the investment in solar, wind energy and energy conservation, which are the only answers for Britain.”

1Oliver Munnion from Biofuelwatch who is taking part in today’s protest said: “I’m here today to dispel a modern myth that big biomass is sustainable, low-carbon energy. Drax isn’t going green – it’s cashing in on massive subsidies to the tune of half a billion pounds a year and trying to keep its old, dirty power station going for as long as possible. You can’t paint a green façade onto the UK’s most polluting power station. Big biomass and coal spell disaster for communities and the climate – it’s time these dinosaurs closed.”

Sophie Bastable, also attending the demonstration said: “In order for governments to meet renewable energy targets and to make dirty companies look green there is a massive push for biomass in the UK right now. But the fuel that Drax currently uses and will use much more of directly contributes to the destruction of biodiverse forests in North America. There is nothing sustainable about burning 1.6 times as much as the UK’s total annual wood supply in one power station every year. Creating such a vast new demand for wood will lead to more destruction of biodiverse forests and, whether directly or indirectly, more land-grabbing for tree plantations in the global South.”

Today’s protest coincides with the publication of an open letter to Drax Plc signed by 49 different organisations and networks worldwide, including Friends of the Earth International, the Global Forest Coalition and World Rainforest Movement [3]. The letter concludes: “We oppose commercial and industrial scale bioenergy, and demand that the UK halt coal conversion plans and force these coal plants to shut down. Meanwhile focus must be redirected towards a serious reduction of energy consumption and dramatic measures to protect and restore forests and other ecosystems.”

P1000907Drax’s biomass plans will require pellets made from 15.8 million tonnes of wood each year, making it the biggest biomass-burning power station in the world. By comparison, the UK’s total annual wood production is only 10 million tonnes. Overall, energy companies in the UK are planning to burn up to 10 times as much wood as the UK produces ever year. Wood burned by Drax increasingly comes from whole trees felled for this purpose [4].

In addition to issues of deforestation and land-grabbing, recent scientific studies have shown that biomass used for electricity generation is actually more carbon intensive than burning coal [5]. Duncan Law from Biofuelwatch said: “Burning biomass on the scale proposed will be even more carbon intensive than the coal it will replace, and result in a massive carbon debt stored just where we don’t want it, in the atmosphere. Far from being a low-carbon fuel, it’s a total climate disaster!”.

For local communities, coal to biomass conversions will mean decades more of high levels of pollution, since the conversions allow power stations to continue operating when they may otherwise have to close down [6]. Reverend Paul Cawthorne, Environmental Officer for the Lichfield Diocese and a near-by resident to Ironbridge, another coal-fired power station converting to biomass said: “After the dash for gas comes the dash for wood and with similar uncertainties about how noxious emissions will affect our local air. Why do some people think cutting down forests in other countries is somehow better for the planet than using our local resources and putting effort into becoming more efficient in our domestic use of energy. This is absurd and culpable short-termism. Even the wood trade is warning ministers this is a disaster in the making.”

Notes to Editors:

[1] Biofuelwatch is a not-for-profit grassroots organisation set up to raise awareness of the negative impacts of industrial biofuels and bioenergy http://biofuelwatch.org.uk/

[2] The following organisations are formally supporting Taking DRAXtic Action: Campaign Against Climate Change; Carbon Trade Watch; Christian Ecology Link; Climate Justice Collective; Coal Action Network; Coal Action Scotland; Colombia Solidarity Campaign; Corporate Watch; Frack Free Somerset; Fuel Poverty Action; Gaia Foundation; London Mining Network; London Rising Tide; Occupy London Energy, Equity and Environment Group; Rising Tide UK; World Development Movement.

[3] The Open Letter to Drax can be found at

[4] The Dogwood Alliance, a nonprofit organization working to protect forests in the Southern US, released a report entitled “The Use of Whole Trees in Wood Pellet Manufacturing,” in November 2012 documenting the fact that the top exporters of wood pellets in the region rely heavily on cutting down whole trees to satisfy demand from European power stations. Scot Quaranda, Campaign Director for Dogwood Alliance said “Energy companies in the UK, including Drax, RWE and E.On are converting large, old, dirty and inefficient coal power stations to biomass all in the name of reducing carbon emissions, but the reality is that this shift will accelerate climate change while also driving destructive industrial logging in the world’s most biologically diverse temperate forests.” Through direct investigation and research, the report documents the use of whole trees from Southern forests by the largest wood pellet manufacturers and exporters in the Southern US. Pellet manufacturers such as Georgia Biomass, a wholly owned subsidiary of RWE, and Enviva, a major supplier of Drax and E.On are highlighted in the report as using or if not open, planning to use, whole trees. The report can be found here http://www.dogwoodalliance.org/2012/11/new-report-discredits-uk-energy-company-claims-that-pellets-come-from-wood-waste/

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

[6] According to a briefing by Department for Energy and Climate for the House of Lords on 14th February 2013, “the conversion of existing coal generating plant to biomass or higher levels of biomass co-firing is a way of keeping open some existing coal plant that would otherwise close before 2016 under environmental legislation, and therefore improve capacity margins over this decade.” (http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201213/ldselect/ldsecleg/123/12306.htm)