Biomass electricity = forest destruction and land-grabs

Clearcutting of coastal native hardwood forests in North Carolina – Drax is burning pellets from native forest logging in this region. Photo: Dogwood Alliance

Campaigners have reacted angrily to Government announcements on Wednesday setting out increased support for new biomass power capacity through “strike prices”.  High levels of long-term subsidies have been guaranteed for the partial conversion of Drax Power station to biomass (allowing both to avoid having to shut down), for the biomass conversion of the currently closed Lynemouth Power station and for a large new biomass plant proposed by MGT Power at Teesside Port. Coal to biomass conversion strike price is £105 p MWh. Dedicated biomass will get £125 p MWh guaranteed.

MGT Power’s plans have already been implicated in land-grabbing in Brazil for eucalyptus plantations, [2] whilst Drax has been shown to have burnt pellets sourced from the clear-cutting of ancient wetland forests in the southern US. [3] Overall, further support was announced for more than 4GW of biomass capacity, which will see operators burning almost 30 million tonnes of green wood a year and receiving approximately £ 1 billion in subsidies for this annually. [4] Drax has already been guaranteed around £198 million in subsidies for biomass conversion under an existing subsidy scheme.  30 million tonnes of wood is equivalent to three times the UK’s  total annual wood production.

Oliver Munnion, Biofuelwatch co-director said: “This announcement speaks volumes about the true nature of UK renewable energy policy. Billions are being thrown at old, inefficient coal-fired power stations in a desperate attempt to keep them generating, whilst new, equally inefficient dedicated plants implicated in land-grabbing are also receiving support. Burning 3 times as much wood as the UK produces every year is not the way to reduce emissions – it’s a smoke screen for the business-as-usual agendas of Government and energy companies.”

Almuth Ernsting, Biofuelwatch co-director said: “Our new report, published only last month, clearly showed the destruction being caused right now by UK biomass policy. Far from reducing support for this industry, DECC has done the opposite and announced the next generation of generous subsidies. Whilst industry and government slap each other on the back for “going green”, communities in Brazil are being robbed of their land for monoculture eucalyptus plantations and ancient wetland forests in the southern US are being destroyed. In the case of Brazil, this destruction isn’t even to supply existing plants, but is happening on the back of speculative investments created by DECC’s flawed policy decisions.”

As part of the announcements, Yorkshire-based coal-fired power station Drax has received support for the conversion to biomass of its second and third units; Eggborough, also in Yorkshire, has been guaranteed support for their proposed 75% conversion; and Npower/RWE’s Lynemouth Power Station in the North East has also been given the same level of support. MGT Power’s Teesside dedicated biomass plant also received full support, although construction work has not begun and uncertainly remains about sourcing and heat delivery plans.

In a last minute decision on 19th December DECC omitted Eggborough from the list of projects that would receive early guarantees of new subsidies, i.e. Contracts for Difference.  They state that they will  make a decision about Eggborough in 2014.

Put together, the total annual requirement of green wood for these plants will be 27.8 million tonnes, three times the current annual UK wood production.

Read Biofuelwatch’s new report “Biomass: the Chain of Destruction” here

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One thought on “Biomass electricity = forest destruction and land-grabs

  1. I really hoped that the green party would of won more seats at the general election,the country is in need of fresh view point concerning safe and environmental friendly fuels.
    N power are doing a lot of community based programmes a long with other fuel suppliers.

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