On the morning of 25th April, forest, climate and environmental justice activists gathered outside Drax Plc’s Annual General Meeting in York. The lively demonstration aimed to inform delegates and shareholders of Drax’s mis-spending of public money and the fact that it contributes to climate change rather than mitigating it.
The crowd of around 30 were joined by former Green Party leader Natalie Bennett. On the same day, Liverpool residents also gather outside Peel Port, where biomass wood pellets arrive before being transported to Drax Power Station by train. Drax owns the formerly coal-fired Drax Power Station in Selby, Yorkshire, which now runs 70% on biomass in the form of imported wood pellets.
Having converted four of its units to biomass since 2009, Drax is now the largest burner of wood for electricity in the world, for which it received £729 million in government subsidies in 2017, paid out of a surcharge on electricity bills. Last year the company announced plans to substantially rebuild its remaining two coal-fired units to run on another fossil fuel, gas, which will require further subsidies.
While the biomass industry claims to be making a reduction on carbon dioxide emissions through sustainably managed forests, a growing body of scientific evidence has shown that it can be as bad as coal for the climate, or worse. 800 scientists recently signed a letter to the EU Parliament asking for bioenergy from forests (such as the wood burnt at Drax) not to be classed as renewable energy under the EU’s Renewable Energy Directive.
Drax and its primary US supplier Enviva recently came under fire after Channel 4’s Dispatches programme exposed the clearcutting of biodiverse forests to be made into pellets in Virginia.
Today’s “AxeDrax” protests were organised by a coalition of local and national groups, including Biofuelwatch, the Coal Action Network, Yorkshire anti fracking and pro-renewable energy groups, and Liverpool Earth First.
Natalie Bennett, former leader of the Green Party of England and Wales, travelled from Sheffield for the demonstration. She said:
“Drax is a textbook case of how not to do electricity generation. We are subsidising at significant cost a technology that relies on environmental destruction, of American forests being turned into fuel that is shipped halfway around the world, when we should be looking to solar, wind and tidal power, where the ‘fuel’ is free and its use genuinely environmentally friendly – plus the great Cinderella of energy policy, energy efficiency.”
Duncan Law from Biofuelwatch said:
“Burning trees for power emits as much carbon dioxide as coal. Drax is cooking the climate and destroying forests in other countries to feed its power station. The pellet industry destroys the habitat of red wolves, black bears, salamanders and a number of bird species in the southern US. If Drax was serious about producing more sustainable energy, this is the last thing it would be doing.”
Anne Harris from the Coal Action Network said:
“Drax is making a lot of noise about moving away from coal, but it is still one of the largest coal burners in the UK, importing from Colombia where coal mining has been linked to human rights abuses and evictions of indigenous people from their land. Drax is also proposing to lock us in to decades more of fossil fuel dependency by building the UK’s largest gas fired power station to date.”
George Grace from Liverpool said:
“We are a group of local residents concerned by the continued deforestation being done in the name of progress. Furthermore we object to the subsidy provided by UK government to Drax, which is supposed to be available only to low carbon generators. The burning of wood pellets which are shipped to the UK via Liverpool Freeport before onward rail transportation to Drax Power Station in Selby releases more carbon into the atmosphere than coal. Peel Holdings profit handsomely from this trade and benefit from Drax’s subsidies.”
1. See the Drax Investor Briefing from Biofuelwatch
2. For more information about Drax Power Station and the ongoing campaign to close it down see AxeDrax
3. Letter from Scientists to EU
4. Channel 4 documentary
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