In a new spin on the revolving door, former Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Chris Huhne has left jail and collected a job worth £100,000 a year with Zilkha Biomass Energy. Zilhka is a US company that ships wood pellets from America to Northern Europe.
Chris Huhne’s new job doesn’t cut much mustard with critics of the bioenergy industry.
Oliver Munnion, Campaigner for Biofuelwatch, said:
“Chris Huhne is being rewarded for his ardent support for the biomass industry during his time as Energy and Climate Change Secretary. He oversaw vast subsidies and other support mechanisms being put in place for bioenergy which have resulted in a rush for biomass that could see the UK’s demand for wood rise to 90 million tonnes a year – nine times the UK’s annual production.
“Plans for coal to biomass power station conversions in the UK alone will create a demand for wood pellets almost double what was produced globally in 2010 – good news for companies like Zilkha who will benefit directly from these misguided renewable energy policies.”
So far, operators of five coal-fired power stations have obtained planning permission for conversions. Between them, they would need to burn around five times as much wood as the UK produces in total every year. This is twice as many wood pellets as were produced worldwide in 2010. The five power stations are Rugley (GDF Suez and Mitsui & Co), Ironbridge (E.On), Drax (Drax Plc), Eggborough (Eggborough Power Ltd) and Alcan Lynemouth (recently bought by RWE Npower). Another conversion, of Tilbury B has been abandoned by RWE Npower.
Large scale biomass is neither green nor renewable
Last year, CMTL reported that the Leeds City Region Green Economy Panel was promoting large-scale biomass electricity generation at the Drax power station near Leeds. CMTL urged readers to email Green Investment Bank Chair & Cllr Battye to stop funding big biomass, on the grounds that burning biomass in power stations is neither green nor renewable energy – in fact, it is devastating socially and environmentally, in many of the same ways that coal is.
Pete Kilvert, Chairman of Trafford Breathe Clean Air Group that is campaigning against the dangers of large scale biomass electricity generation, said,
“The Breathe Clean Air Group has been saying this for the last three years, that burning biomass produces 50% more carbon dioxide than burning coal and 330% more carbon dioxide than burning natural gas. This is based on solid research carried out in Massachusetts, USA”.
In Trafford, Greater Manchester, the Barton Renewable Energy Plant plans to burn waste wood from construction and demolition sites along with industrial and commercial waste. Not only will this produce masses of carbon dioxide, but toxic chemicals that will have massive ill-health impacts. Mr Kilvert said,
“Burning biomass is not safe for people or planet Earth, and we won’t stop our campaign until the Government stops this dirty process and chooses safer options.”
Bioenergy accounts for the bulk of energy classed as renewable in the UK. The UK Bioenergy Strategy – supported by Huhne – made biomass electricity the keystone of the UK’s renewable energy strategy. The strategy took evidence from an industry report that claimed that there is a vast future potential for especially imported ‘sustainable’ biomass.
Energy policy is guided by energy companies’ lobbying power
Energy companies have a cosy a relationship with the Department for Energy and Climate Change, and their vast lobbying power skews renewable energy policy.
Information that Biofuelwatch obtained through a Freedom of Information request to the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) in May this year shows that in June and July 2012 Drax and DECC corresponded about the timing of the release of the Renewables Obligation banding review proposals, with Drax pressing DECC to hasten the process as their share price had fallen substantially.
This collusion between the then Energy Minister John Hayes and Drax over subsidies for biomass raises concerns over the degree of influence that Drax Plc has over government policy. Drax is currently converting half of its generating capacity to biomass.
Sophie Bastable, campaigner for Biofuelwatch said:
“What we’re seeing is collusion between Energy Ministers and Drax over subsidies, showing that Government support through subsidies was a done deal way before it was agreed in parliament. Drax were confident enough of government support in July 2012, well before the actual decision, to look for funding for the infrastructure necessary for their conversion and to issue confidence notes to investors on the ROC banding review outcome.”
Additionally, Drax Plc and Eggborough Power Ltd – with planning permission for a full biomass conversion – are funding consultancy firm Luther Pendragon to act as secretariat to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Biomass. The remit of the group is to “explore all aspects of biomass use for the production of renewable energy, including: sustainability criteria, environmental impact, logistics, farming, forestry and its efficiency as a source of energy.”
Sophie Bastable said:
“This government’s energy policy is guided by the lobbying power of big business, and certainly not public opinion, science or a genuine desire to make energy generation more sustainable. Huhne’s new job shows how Government support for industry is awarded.”