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Groups Expose UK for Subsidizing Biomass and 'Clean Coal' as Renewable Energy

Energy

Campaigners representing groups working on issues of opencast coal and biomass have jointly called on Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC) yesterday to end to subsidies and industry support for Drax Power Station. The statement follows an announcement by DECC and Drax claiming that “Britain’s largest coal-fired power station is set to become one of Europe’s biggest renewable electricity generators, with the potential for new future generation on the site to be based on truly clean coal.”

Large scale biomass facilities can qualify for government subsidies as renewable energy providers. Photo credit: Biomass Greenwash Facebook page

The impacts of large-scale biomass for electricity are being felt in North and South America where most wood imports to the UK originate. In the southern U.S. for example, ancient wetland forests are being destroyed by Drax pellet supplier Enviva. Similarly, most coal burned in the UK is imported from abroad. In Colombia, the British-owned Cerrejón mine has caused long-lasting conflicts with local communities and resulted in unprecedented environmental destruction

The DECC announcement has been described as “misleading greenwash” by groups working on issues of opencast coal mining and bioenergy.

“What DECC aren’t telling the public is that Drax’s half conversion to biomass, as well as being responsible for trashing ancient forests in the southern U.S., will extend the life of the other half of the power station which will continue to be fed on coal mined in Colombia, Russia and the UK," said Oliver Munnion from Biofuelwatch. “If Ed Davey thinks that a combination of deforestation and continued coal use qualifies as renewable energy then he is badly mistaken.”

When fully operational, Drax’s biomass conversions will be eligible for an estimated £726 million in subsidies each year—more than the total cost of the conversion. On top of this, Drax has been awarded a £50 million loan from the Green Investment Bank and a £75 million public loan guarantee. Drax’s experimental carbon capture project has also been given millions in government support. If all plans are realized, Drax will be burning 16 million tons of wood and 5.5 million tons of coal each year, long into the future.

“Colombian coal is the fruit of terrible injustices, yet Drax will now be allowed to keep burning it for years to come instead of closing the power station," said Richard Solly, co-ordinator of the London Mining Network. “The suggestion that this coal could ever be 'truly clean' is a slap in the face for communities who have been forcibly evicted, partly to feed power stations in the UK, and to the communities currently under threat of eviction from expansion of the Cerrejón mine.”

“Far from being a green form of energy the burning of trees for electricity can result in even higher climate emissions than fossil fuels and poses a threat to the world’s forests," said Kenneth Richter, Friends of the Earth campaigner. "Keeping dirty, outdated coal-fired power stations alive by now adding trees in the furnace is the worst possible outcome for the environment.”

Visit EcoWatch’s ENERGY and BIODIVERSITY pages for more related news on this topic.

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