And the Award for Biggest Biomass Baddie goes to… by Biofuelwatch supporter Almuth Ernsting
Exposing the biomass industry outside an industry gala awards dinner
On 9th and 10th April, the biggest players in Europe’s biomass industry will be gathering in London for the “Argus European Biomass Trading 2014” conference. With a full conference fee of over £2,000, this conference focusses entirely on large-scale industrial biomass. Participants include energy companies E.On, RWE, Drax, Eggborough, GDF Suez, and North American pellet producers and exporters. UK biomass companies hope to cash in on subsidies for burning millions of tonnes of imported wood (MGT Power, Helius) and consultancies and suppliers wanting to profit from such business.
On the evening of the 9th, they will celebrate an Awards Gala Dinner, where they will hand awards to three individuals/companies in their midst.
Biofuelwatch is inviting anyone concerned about the forest destruction, carbon emissions and air pollution caused by big biomass, to welcome delegates on their way to the Gala Dinner with banners, placards and to join us in a presentation of an alternative Biomess Award. In the run up to 9th April, we urge you to cast your vote for the Biggest Biomass Baddie: http://www.biofuelwatch.org.uk/biomess-awards/ .
We’ve selected six candidates, although there are many different energy companies who deserve a Biomass Award too. The candidates are:
+ Department for Energy and Climate Change: Most people associate renewable energy with wind turbines and solar panels. Yet across the UK, almost three-quarters of energy classed as ‘renewable’ comes from burning biomass or waste. This is almost entirely due to DECC’s renewable energy subsidy rules. Under those rules, a large biomass power station burning 1 million tonnes of wood every year can get around £69 million of subsidies every year, as long as a very small proportion of the heat gets used, e.g. for drying wood pellets. And Drax, who plan to convert half their capacity to biomass, can look forward to £694 million of subsidies annually – a great deal, given that the whole biomass conversion only costs them £700 million. Onshore wind and PV solar subsidies, meantime, are being cut.
Subsidies for big biomass clearly don’t help to reduce carbon emissions. To the contrary: Increasingly, whole trees which took 70 years or longer to grow are being cut down to be burned in power stations. In North America, even ancient forests are being clearcut to produce pellets for the UK. Burning wood for electricity emits up to 50% more CO2 than burning coal, for the same unit of energy. New trees may in decades to come, grow and absorb that carbon again – that’s if they don’t quickly get chopped down and burned too. We don’t have decades left before starting to reduce carbon emissions. But neither common sense nor science has thwarted DECC’s enthusiasm for skewing renewable energy policies further in favour of big biomass, regardless of the impacts. They counter all criticism by pointing to their biomass sustainability and greenhouse gas standards, although they’ve just delayed introducing them once more, this time to April 2016. But they have made sure to draw up those standards in such a way that they won’t harm the business interests of those cutting down biodiverse and carbon-rich forests anywhere in the world, nor the energy companies buying such wood.
+ TheRenewable Energy Association (REA): If you thought the REA was a voice against the fossil fuel industry and for a transition to clean and green energy, think again. Bioenergy is the only form of energy classed as renewable which the REA has set up a dedicated campaign to defend. Their Back Biomass campaign is funded by big energy companies and managed by the world’s biggest corporate PR company, Edelman. REA lobbying has helped Drax to gain the subsidy promises from DECC which they needed to profit from biomass and avoid having to close down their polluting old power station.
+ Drax: Drax burns more wood than any other energy company in the UK. Without burning a lot of biomass, the power station would be breaching EU rules on sulphur dioxide emissions and therefore have to close down after 2015. This – as well as lucrative biomass subsidies – is why Drax has started to convert the power station to burn 50% wood and 50% coal. As their Chair pointed out last year: “Just because we’re going with biomass doesn’t mean we don’t like coal”. A 50% biomass conversion would require Drax to burn pellets made from almost 16 million tonnes of wood a year – 1.6 times the UK’s annual wood production. Nearly all of the wood burned by Drax is imported, mostly from the southern US and Canada – from regions where ancient forests are being clearcut rapidly. One of their pellet suppliers, Enviva, has been shown to be directly involved in such clearcuts for pellets. Drax has been particularly successful lobbying for subsidies and other state supports and, together with Eggborough Plc, they fund the Secretariat of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Biomass, giving them lots of direct access to MPs.
+ Enviva: They’re one of Drax’s largest suppliers and also sell pellets to E.On (who have converted Ironbrige power station to wood) and GDF Suez (for Dutch power stations). Enviva are the largest pellet producer in the US. Several NGOs as well as reporters have investigated their flagship pellet plant in North Carolina and have clearly shown that Enviva has turned wood from clearcut ancient swamp forests into pellets for export. According to the US-based Dogwood Alliance, “the [swamp] forests contain the most biologically diverse freshwater ecosystems on the planet. There is no place in the world with a higher concentration of salamander or carnivorous plant species” – including the Venus flytrap, which is endemic to a region targeted by Enviva.
+ The Wood Pellet Association of Canada (WPCA): WPCA represent pellet producers across Canada but especially from British Columbia, where logging of oldgrowth forests has been described as a “free for all”. One of their members is Pinnacle Pellets, who supply Drax. WPCA have been lobbying the European Commission to make sure no measures will be taken to stop them from exporting pellets from clearcut ancient forests to Europe.
+ Finally, the Green Investment Bank (GIB): The GIB was set up to finance environmentally friendly, low-carbon projects. Yet their first large loan went to Drax. For this they were praised by the government for preventing Drax from closing down. Thus, thanks to the GIB, Drax will be burning not just the equivalent of 1.6 times the UK’s entire annual wood production every year, but also 3.7 million tonnes of coal – rather than nothing at all. Yet the GIB ascribes over 91% of the projected ‘carbon savings’ from loans they made in their first year to Drax!
Stopping big biomass is key to ensuring that renewable energy supports actually help the climate and environment, rather than fuelling even more climate change, pollution and forest destruction. Ultimately, this requires the very term ‘renewable’ to be defined in a sensible way and support to only go to sustainable, truly low-carbon forms of energy, not big biomass or, for that matter, biofuels. As US campaigners against biomass power stations have said: Clean energy does not come out of a smokestack. With this protest and the Biomess Award, we will be exposing the key players responsible for skewing the UK’s renewables policies in favour of large energy companies and polluting, climate- and forest-destroying power stations.
+ The protest and Alternative Awards Ceremony will take place from 7pm on 9th April outside the Gibson Hall, 13 Bishopsgate, London EC2N 3BA. See http://www.biofuelwatch.org.uk/biomess-awards/biomess-awards-event-details/
+ Please help us spread the word about this protest and Awards vote to all your contacts, including by tweeting with the hashtag #biomessawards .
+ Advance notice: There will also be a protest outside the Drax AGM which we expect will be held in London at the end of April. Details will be published on www.biofuelwatch.org.uk as soon as they are known.