BIOMASS BURNING: it's time to stop the subsidies!
Updated: May 19
Although our Newcastle climate group doesn't have biomass burning right on our doorstep, we are plum in the middle of a "hotspot" for two of the most shocking examples of "burning" our taxpayer funds, in ways that make climate problems worse, rather than shifting funds to make positive changes for more sustainable futures for us all.
The Bermuda Triangle was famous for ships mysteriously vanishing. Our Biomass Triangle has seen vast sums of money vanish - together with reducing our chances of keeping temperature rises below 1.5 degrees. The power stations north and south of us cost the UK more than £1 billion in direct subsidies in 2020 and 2021.
But awareness is rising - and with it, protests to try to stop the subsidies that are fanning the flames. Here's a summary of WHERE, WHY and WHAT WE CAN DO!
TO OUR SOUTH: we have Drax power station, in Yorkshire. Drax's claims to fame include:
world’s biggest wood-burning plant
second biggest producer of wood pellets globally, supplying companies across Europe and East Asia
emits more CO2 than any other facility in the UK.
TO OUR NORTH: we have Lynemouth Power station, near Ashington in Northumberland - the UK's second largest biomass burner, after Drax. Lynemouth was originally a coal power station but was closed down by the previous owners, RWE, who then sold it to the Czech company EPH, which converted Lynemouth to burning wood pellets - it is now one of the largest biomass plants in Europe.
Energy and Industry Holding Company has 20 power plants; its majority owner, Daniel Křetínský, is a billionaire. A webinar in May 2023 shared the latest information about what happens at Lynemouth, what it means for climate change and who is taking the decisions (link in BACKGROUND section below - it includes an eye witness report of areas being stripped of trees, with alarming projections of consequences for important forestry).
A FEW MILES EAST ALONG THE RIVER TYNE: we have the Port of Tyne, which has been handling record imports of wood pellets, supplying both Drax and Lynemouth power stations. Its largest ever wood pellet shipment was 62,522.49 metric tonnes of sustainable biomass pellets for Drax. The vessel sailed from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, US. The volume is not a surprise, with wood pellets being imported from around the world. You may have seen the recent BBC Panorama programme about logging pristine forests in British Columbia. Both Drax and Lynemouth power stations burn pellets made from wood that’s sourced from highly biodiverse and carbon-rich forests in the South-eastern USA and Canada. Drax also sources pellets from large-scale forest clearcuts in the Baltic States.
SO WHAT ABOUT THE £££££?
Drax received £606.8 million in subsidies during 2022. Thanks to those subsidies, it made a record-breaking £731 million in profits (and once again increased its pay-outs to shareholders). The subsidies were paid despite record wholesale electricity prices following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which significantly contributed to the cost of living crisis.The subsidies were even higher in recent years – almost reaching £1 billion in 2021.
Drax’s and Lynemouth’s current biomass subsidies are due to end in 2027. In order to continue operating its power station, Drax is now bidding for a new kind of subsidy, called Contract for Difference (CfD). It hopes to succeed by adjusting its UK strategy, to fit with the Government’s 2021 Net Zero Strategy. That strategy includes an ambitious target for “greenhouse gas removals”, with BECCS (carbon capture and storage) as a supposed key technology. In May 2022, Drax submitted a planning application to install carbon capture equipment at two of its biomass units. The final decision will eventually be made by the Secretary of State.
Lynemouth received hundreds of millions of pounds in subsidies every year, except in 2022, because of the high electricity prices then. EPH may try to obtain post-2027 subsidies – something campaigners will be looking out for.
WHAT CAN WE DO TO STOP THIS??
It's important that we call on our local MPs to demand that the government stops subsidies for large-scale biomass electricity and doesn’t grant any future ones to Drax or Lynemouth.
Please take part in Biofuelwatch’s email alert to MPs: https://www.biofuelwatch.org.uk/2022/please-call-on-your-mp-to-stop-subsidies-for-draxs-tree-burning/ .
DRAX: the 2023 AGM takes place on 26 April. Information on how to support the protests here.
Previous protests included blocking the train lines taking trees to Drax Power Station, resulting in court sentences. Recently, the department of Business Energy and Industrial Strategy was covered in bright orange paint.
LYNEMOUTH: EPH has no shareholders and does not hold AGMs. However, campaigners across Europe are calling on one of EPH’s biggest financier, Société Générale, to divest from the company. The Société Générale 2023 AGM takes place on 23 May, in Paris - a protest has been held at Lynemouth Power Station and European campaigners will be sharing pictures in their joint press release sent out on 23 May. If you would like to get involved in future, please email Olwyn.
Stop Burning Trees: https://stopburningtrees.org/
Friends of the Earth briefing here.
Drax’s and Lynemouth’s biomass electricity counts towards the UK government’s goal of decarbonising electricity generation by 2035, even though scientists around the world warn that large-scale burning of forest wood for energy increases carbon emissions for decades (if not centuries) and is incompatible with limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees.
Drax’s pellet sourcing and production are linked to serious public health impacts in environmental justice communities in the Southeastern USA, i.e. in communities with an above-average level of poverty, many of them African American. A Greenpeace report accuses Drax of ‘environmental racism’ (https://unearthed.greenpeace.org/2022/09/26/drax-accused-environmental-racism-further-pollution-claims-against-wood-pellet-mills-us/)
Latest background report on Lynemouth and EPH here. Produced by Biofuelwatch, and includes detailed document to download as well.
A link to the YouTube coverage of the webinar in May 2023 can be seen here - it includes an eye witness report of areas being stripped of trees, with alarming projections of consequences for important forestry.
Background report on EPH here, published in January 2023 by Re-set: Platform for Socio-Ecological Transformation.
CAMPAIGNING - more suggestions from Stop Burning Trees
Email your MP!
Call on your MP to halt the £billions of subsidies given to Drax and re-allocate the money to genuine renewables and climate action.
If you can do more to engage with your MP then please contact email@example.com
Ask them to contact the Ministers making the decisions, including:
Grant Schapps, Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero (ESNZ) - responsible for subsidies going to Drax (Department for Energy Security and Net Zero [DESNZ]) Graham Stuart, Minister of State for Energy Security and Net Zero in the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (former minister of BEIS) - responsible for subsidies going to Drax
Support the call for Barclays to #DropDrax:
Schroders holds 9% of Drax’s shares and is a major shareholder. They have publicly called on Drax to not pursue category 2 licences in British Columbia following BBC panorama’s expose and pressure from their clients. Call on Schroders to divest approximately £220,000,000 worth of shares from Drax: https://actionnetwork.org/letters/tell-schroders-to-divest-from-drax
Andrew Howard, Global Head of Sustainable Investment
Schroders hold 9% of Drax’s shares and are a major shareholder. They already know that Drax's practices are not sustainable. Andrew Howard wrote to the UK Parliament's Environmental Audit Committee and requested a commitment from the firm not to pursue more category 2 licences in Canada, which permits access to forest timber. The Stop Burning Trees Coalition is calling on Schroders to #DivestfromDrax.