Campaigners say “End subsidies for polluting biomass now” as DECC publishes controversial biomass carbon calculator

Campaigners say “End subsidies for polluting biomass now” as DECC publishes controversial biomass carbon calculator

Photo: Dogwood Alliance

Photo: Dogwood Alliance

The Department for Energy and Climate Change have today published a long-awaited carbon calculator for biomass electricity, [1] which has been twice delayed in recent months. The calculator is the work of Chief Scientific Advisor Professor David MacKay, and highlights how burning whole trees, or roundwood, in power stations produces more carbon emissions than burning coal. Significantly, the report shows that Drax power station’s sourcing of wood from diverse wetland forests in the southern US will result in increased carbon emissions, despite the company’s claim that the fuel is low-carbon. [2]

“The carbon calculator shows that the UK Government have got it badly wrong when it comes to biomass electricity.” Said Oliver Munnion, Biofuelwatch Co-Director. [3] “Their own commissioned research now shows that the wood most likely to be burned in import-reliant, big biomass power stations, such as those proposed across the UK, will make climate change worse. DECC must end subsidies for these power stations now.”

Three large-scale biomass projects have recently been awarded lucrative Government subsidies in the first round of Contract for Difference allocation. However, MacKay’s calculator shows that these projects are likely to result in substantial and unacceptable carbon emissions, at a time when emissions should be falling significantly. These are Drax in Yorkshire, Lynemouth operated by RWE in Northumberland and MGT Power’s Teesside Plant.

Between them these plants will require some 11.8 million tonnes of wood a year, more than the UK’s total annual production. Drax is undergoing a 50% conversion from coal to biomass and Lynemouth, currently a coal-fired power station, has permission to convert, whilst the Teesside plant will be a new-build dedicated biomass power station.

Oliver Munnion said: “DECC have conveniently delayed publication of this calculator such that they could award new subsidies to destructive plants before publishing more damning evidence on the carbon impacts of big biomass. Between Drax, Lynemouth and MGT, the Government has so-far committed to providing £600 million of support every year under the guise of renewable energy. But far from supporting low-carbon generation, they’ll actually make the situation worse. Subsidising dirty energy in the name of reducing emissions is pure madness.” [4]


Media contact: Oliver Munnion, 07917693337

Notes to Editors:


[2] For example, see scenario “S10-13: Increased harvest of natural timberland”, page 13 of report

[3] Biofuelwatch is a not-for-profit grassroots organisation set up to raise awareness of the negative impacts of industrial biofuels and bioenergy

[4] Drax have been guaranteed subsidies for converting a second of their six coal power station units to biomass. Each converted unit will require pellets made from 5.5 million tonnes of wood – that is wood from slow-growing whole trees, the only type of biomass that can be burned in converted power stations. They are already in receipt of subsidies for their first converted unit – £190 million a year at full capacity – and now they have been guaranteed at least £250 million a year for converting another unit.

RWE Npower have been guaranteed subsidies of around £158 million a year for converting the 420 MW Lynemouth Power Station to biomass. This would require pellets made from 3.3 million tonnes of wood a year. RWE bought Lynemouth Power Station, complete with planning permission to convert, in late 2012;
MGT Power have been guaranteed around £190 million a year in subsidies for building a planned new 295 MW biomass power station at Teesport. This would burn around 3 million tonnes of wood a year. DECC and MGT Power class the proposed plant as ‘Combined Heat and Power’, even though no large heat customer has been confirmed, MGT has no plans to invest in district heating and the plant may not achieve more than 35% efficiency levels.