Tag Archives: drax

DRAXtic Action – Protesting Coal to Biomass Conversion

drax action front

Cross-posted from Biofuelwatch

Join us at their AGM on the 24th of April to demonstrate against Drax swapping one climate crime for another. More information will follow soon. To find out how to get more involved in this campaign email us at biofuelwatch[at]ymail.com

What Drax is planning…

In July 2012, Drax confirmed that it plans to convert half of its capacity to burning biomass – this will make Drax by far the biggest biomass-burning power station in the world. If this goes ahead, Drax will be burning pellets made from up to 15.8 million tonnes of biomass – nearly all of it wood – every year. Since the UK’s total wood production is only 10 million tonnes a year, virtually all of the wood Drax needs will have to be imported.

Drax already burns biomass which comes from Canada, the USA, Portugal and South Africa. Highly biodiverse forests are being clearcut in North America to make wood pellets for UK power stations. This trend is likely to worsen as the industry expands.

In South Africa, communities are losing their land and access to water because biodiverse grasslands are being destroyed for monoculture tree plantations, some of which now supply Drax. As demand for wood pelletsby Drax and other energy firms grows, so too will human rights abuses in the global South as a result of land and water grabbing for biomass.

Add to this the fact that power stations burning wood emit up to 50% more carbon than ones burning coal. Companies and policy makers ignore carbon emissions from burning biomass, claiming that new trees will grow back and absorb it. Yet it tends to take decades before that can happen. And when forests are destroyed and turned into monoculture biomass plantations, much of that carbon will simply stay in the atmosphere.

It is Lucrative Way of Keeping Old, Polluting Power Stations Running for Longer

Energy companies like Drax are not investing in biomass conversions because they want to burn less coal and save the planet. Instead, they are trying to get round EU air quality regulations and thus keep their old, polluting power stations running indefinitely – while cashing in on lucrative subsidies. Although biomass burning is as polluting as coal burning, it emits less SO2 – and Drax does not currently meet EU limits to SO2 which will be binding from 2016. A partial biomass conversion is likely to allow some power stations to burn coal for much longer than they would otherwise have been able to.

And it’s hugely profitable

Drax has been able to persuade the Government to grant generous subsidies towards biomass conversions, securing £672 million for itself in one year alone. These subsidies will be paid for through our fuel bills, as energy companies pass on the costs to the consumer. This comes at a time when, although energy companies are making record profits, communities are experiencing rising fuel poverty and difficulty paying their bills.

Replacing one destructive fuel with another is not the answer

Coal and biomass destroy communities, ecosystems, people’s health and the climate. The impact of big biomass mirrors that of the coal industry, and painting these industries green is not the solution. We need solutions which focus on an end to large scale coal and biomass.

Drax is not the only power station planned for conversion in the UK. Read more about the full scale of the problem here

Download our briefing on conversions here

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Government Policy on Biomass Overlooked in Reporting of Draft Energy Bill

While most reports on the publication of the Draft energy Bill have focused on gas, nuclear and carbon capture and storage, the Government’s quiet agenda to push us toward massive reliance on bioenergy has mostly been overlooked.

Their Bioenergy Strategy lays out their vision to have a large proportion of the UK’s energy generated from biomass. In fact if their plans were to reach fruition then we would be burning 80 million tonnes of wood each year. Given that the UK’s wood supply is only around 10 million tonnes, the vast majority of this will be imported from the Americas, Africa and Asia, where demand for biomass is already driving deforestation, land-grabs and the emergence of genetically engineered tree plantations.

Biomass and biofuel are included in the Government’s definition of “renewable energy” in the Energy Bill’s glossary, alongside truly renewable resources such as wind, wave and solar power. However Carbon Trade Watch’s recent Nothing Neutral Here report shows that creative accounting means that the true environmental cost of biomass is not taken into account. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, ‘smokestack’ carbon dioxide emissions from biomass are estimated to be on average 50% higher than those of coal. So much for the Government’s pledge to be moving toward a “low-carbon future”.

This failure to take into account the pollution and other negative impacts of biomass allows for big polluters to use bioenergy as a means to carry on with business as usual while claiming subsidies and greenwashing their operations. All of the Big 6 energy companies are investing in big biomass schemes, either by co-firing with biomass in their existing coal-fired power stations, seeking to build dedicated new biomass power stations or supplying the fuel stock.

Bioenergy should not be considered a renewable resource. Burning any fuel in power stations to produce energy always relies on damaging extractive industries and produces emissions that are harmful to the environment and health. If the Government was serious about a low-carbon, clean and secure energy future, they would stop wasting time tinkering with the existing system and instead move clearly and decisively toward a truly renewable energy infrastructure and make bold and concerted moves to dramatically reduce energy consumption. Until they do, draft Energy Bills such as the one we’ve been presented with are nothing more than hot air.


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Big Six Bank on Biomass

There will be a massive increase in hot air in London tomorrow as the UK Energy Summit brings together the big energy companies and their apologists (including E.ON, EDF, Scottish Power, Ofgem, WWF, National Grid, BP and Shell) to focus on “Securing a Sustainable Energy Future”.

Thankfully the resistance has been mobilised, with the Climate Justice Collective organising a Big 6 Energy Bash to challenge the privatisation and monopolisation of energy production, the fuel poverty the Big 6 perpetuate, the climate destruction they cause and the false solutions they promote as part of their greenwashing propaganda.

The energy companies are not in the least bit interested in sustainable, secure and affordable energy, they are only interested in maximising profits. Nowadays part of increasing profits and securing investment means having to appear to take social and environmental concerns seriously. For the Big 6 this means token investment in true renewable energy, such as wind, wave and solar (all at an industrial rather than community scale of course). But there is one energy source they are promoting as “renewable” and really throwing their weight behind – biomass. Biomass is easy to package as green (burning trees is carbon neutral, right?) therefore providing the perfect distraction while they continue with business as usual, burning fuel in their massive power stations and not only making profit from the sale of the energy but also raking in the “green energy” subsidies that we pay for through a premium on our existing energy bills.

For the most part, when we talk about industrial biomass we’re talking about burning virgin wood in existing or dedicated new power stations. With mega polluters like E.ON, Npower and Drax faced with having to shut down their biggest and dirtiest power stations under the EU’s Large Combustion Plant Directive, they are scrambling to find ways to continue to run these places for as long as possible and increasingly to build lots of smaller facilities not covered by this legislation. One of their “solutions” is to co-fire coal with biomass, increasing the amount of biomass up to the point where the facility becomes a dedicated biomass power station. On the surface, this looks like a moderate step in the right direction, after all coal is an extremely dirty fuel. There are many reasons why this is actually a massive retrograde step. Burning wood in an existing power station is highly inefficient, with most of the energy/heat going straight up the smoke stack. Then of course there is all the pollution that comes out of the stack. Some of the pollutants are at levels lower than coal, others are far worse. In terms of smokestack output alone, some argue that biomass is moderately better in terms of carbon emissions than coal but that doesn’t take into account all of the emissions from deforestation in order to supply the biomass, which make it just as bad, if not a great deal worse.

In the UK there are huge plans for biomass, with all of the Big 6 heavily involved (see below). Supplying even the existing proposals for biomass power generation in the UK would require 80 million tonnes of wood. Put into context, the total available domestic wood resource in the UK currently stands at less than 10 million tonnes. So where will all this extra wood come from? Much of it will come from countries where deforestation is already rampant and is increasing with demand; places like Indonesia, West Papua and the Congo. There are also alarming moves in the United States to meet increasing demand for biomass by genetically engineering trees. There are already large-scale field trials of GM Eucalyptus in the Southern States. We can be sure that biomass is a disaster for biodiversity, that it will replace biodiverse forests with monoculture plantations. Forest-dependent communities and forest ecosystems are already under massive pressure as a result of current levels of consumption; a large-scale switch from fossil fuels to biomass or biofuels would be absolutely devastating.

So let’s make sure that “securing a sustainable energy future” means secure and sustainable for everyone, that it means shifting from fossil fuels to truly green and abundant energy from the elements, not switching to false solutions like bioenergy, that it prioritises people over profits, and that it includes a concerted move to cut overall consumption.

The Big 6 and Biomass

All of the Big 6 energy companies have interests in biomass, and those interests are growing steadily, especially with the promise of massive subsidies on the horizon. Here is a brief overview of who’s involved in what.


E.ON already have a dedicated biomass power station at Steven’s Cross and have now received permission for a biomass storage facility at their Ironbridge coal-fired power station to enable them to co-fire up to 270 MW of biomass.

RWE Npower

RWE Npower recently became the operators of the world’s largest biofuel power station when their Tilbury B facility switched from coal to dedicated Biomass… that is until the wood storage facility on the site burst into flames. This is not a massive surprise, considering that piles of wood chip and pellets are known to generate their own heat and can spontaneously combust. RWE also acquired Helius Energy Alpha and have plans for numerous biomass power stations throughout the UK.

Scottish and Southern Electric

Already run a dedicated biomass power station in Slough and plans are being pushed for further dedicated biomass power stations at Scottish ports (Dundee, Grangemouth and Rosyth) in partnership with Forth Ports. Plans for a biomass power station at Leith were dropped after a sustained local campaign.

Centrica (British Gas)

Centrica’s entry into biomass are plans for an 80 MW biomass power station on the site of their existing gas-fired power station at Roosecote, Barrow-in-Furness.

Scottish Power

Like Centrica, Scottish Power are seeking to add biomass to existing sites. In their case, a dedicated biomass power station in the grounds of their Langanet facility in West Fife.


Keen not to be left out, EDF boast to being the “UK’s largest suppliers of biomass.” Their target market is coal-fired power stations seeking to co-fire with biomass.

Special mention to Drax Group

Although not classified as one of the “Big 6”, Drax in North Yorkshire is the biggest power station in the UK, and they are aggressively pushing for increased subsidies for biomass. The recently convened All Party Parliamentary Group on Biomass is chaired by Nigel Adams, MP for the constituency where Drax is based. Drax provide the secretariat for the group, and at their first meeting a promotional film about biomass was shown, made by… you’ve guessed it, Drax.

Drax power station already co-fires biomass, with the view to keep increasing the amount up to as much as 100%, and they have sought planning approval to build three dedicated biomass power stations. However they have said they are unable to go ahead with these plans since the level of subsidy for biomass has not yet been agreed. Hmm, a cynic may just think this is nothing more than blackmailing the government into granting the subsidies Drax want so that they can increase their profit margin.


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