Taking DRAXtic Action Media Advisory

For immediate use 15th April 2013

Biofuelwatch Media Advisory & Photo Call

Contact: Oliver Munnion on 07917693337 or oli.munnion@biofuelwatch.org.uk

What?: Biofuelwatch will hold a loud and visual demonstration with banners, speakers and samba band outside the Drax Plc AGM with the support of numerous organisations

When?: Wednesday 24th April – demonstration begins at 12:00 noon, speeches from 13:00, demonstration ends 14:00

Where?: Princes Street entrance to The Grocers’ Hall, Princes Street, London EC2R 8AD, see map here http://www.biofuelwatch.org.uk/alerts/drax-protest/#2

Advisory Contents:

1. Taking DRAXtic Action: Biofuelwatch and 16 supporting organisations plan to target Drax Plc AGM over coal to biomass conversion plans
2. Green Investment Bank Banking on Big Biomass with Drax loan

1. Biofuelwatch Taking DRAXtic Action at the Drax AGM

On the 24th April Biofuelwatch [1] and 16 supporting organisations [2] will hold a demonstration and rally outside the annual general meeting of Drax Plc, at the Grocers’ Hall in London. Biofuelwatch are calling this 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.

Drax’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 9 times as much wood as the UK produces ever year. Wood burned by Drax increasingly comes from whole trees felled for this purpose.

A growing number of scientific studies [3] show that over a period of several decades, producing electricity from whole trees will be even worse for the climate than producing the same amount of electricity from coal for a period of several decades. Furthermore, serious environmental concerns have already been raised about the destruction of highly biodiverse forests in the Southern US which are being exacerbated by Drax’s growing demand for wood pellets [4].

Nonetheless, the Government offers generous subsidies to companies such as Drax who are converting coal power station units to biomass, paid as Renewable Obligation Certificates through energy bills. They have made it clear that their prime objective is to avoid old and polluting coal power stations having to close down under EU air quality regulations [5]. Power stations such as Drax are expected to breach EU air emission standards from 2016 because of the amount of sulphur dioxide they are emitting. Biomass, although overall as polluting as coal, reduces those particular emissions.

Oliver Munnion from Biofuelwatch said “Drax and the Government are using renewable energy targets as an excuse to keep old, polluting coal power stations running by burning vast amounts of imported wood. This is being justified because of a modern myth that biomass can be sustainable regardless of its scale. Yet 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.”

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 [6]. Sophie Bastable from Biofuelwatch says: “Smokestack emissions of carbon from biomass power stations are ignored by the industry because they say trees grow back, so the energy is renewable. While this is convenient for them, it is a total fallacy. Burning biomass on the scale proposed will be up to 50% 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 would otherwise have to close down. 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.”

2. Green Investment Bank: Banking on Big Biomass

The Green Investment Bank (GIB) was set up in 2012 by Vince Cable’s Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS) to kickstart investments into a green economy. However, its first major investment has been a £100 million loan to Drax Plc in December last year to finance its conversion to biomass.

Biofuelwatch is currently running an online alert [7] encouraging people to write to Lord Smith, the bank’s Chairperson, and asking him to make a commitment not to finance any more bioenergy projects. So far over 1000 people have taken part in the alert.

Duncan Law from Biofuelwatch said: “Despite our alert, the 1000 emails that have been sent and a meeting with GIB representatives they’re still refusing to budge on the issue. It’s a no-brainer – big biomass causes deforestation and leads to hugely increased carbon emissions, there’s absolutely nothing green about it. The GIB should be financing genuinely low-carbon and renewable energy, not the green façade of the UK’s most polluting company.”

Biofuelwatch has also exposed disturbing contradictions within the GIB’s operations. They are currently operating and making substantial investments without policies or criteria in place that investments would have to meet, and are operating contrary to the rules laid out in their state aid approval granted by the EC [8]. Vince Cable and the BIS have so far refused to respond to these contradictions exposed by Biofuelwatch.

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] 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

[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] 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)

[6] 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

[7] Biofuelwatch’s alert can be found here http://www.biofuelwatch.org.uk/2013/green-bank-alert/ and further information on the Green Investment Bank here http://www.biofuelwatch.org.uk/alerts/banking-on-big-biomass/

[8] The EC’s State Aid decision stipulates: “Project holders seeking funding from the GIB will be requested to provide evidence that they have been denied funds or have not obtained all the necessary funding from market operators. The GIB’s intervention will also rest on a so-called “additionality principle”: whenever possible, funding provided by the GIB will come in addition to market financing.” However, during Biofuelwatch’s meeting with the GIB, representatives stated that financial viability and attractiveness to commercial funders was a key criteria for GIB funding, and that the GIB is providing funding on the basis that for every pound input by the GIB, several pounds will come from other investors.