Drax converts to biomass – wetland forests & £hundreds of millions of public subsidies go up in smoke

Here is Ed Davey MP in a government propaganda video about the opening of facilities to handle the biomass Drax now imports, as it’s converting three of the six units at the power station from burning coal to burning biomass.

Plain Speaker has reported on various occasions about how large scale biomass burning is not green or renewable – here and here, for example – and has also pointed out that corporate biomass developers are swallowing massive subsidies paid for by the public.

Destruction of wetland forests in Southern USA to fuel Drax

While Ed Davey was cavorting at Drax, the Dogwood Alliance in the Southern USA, where Drax gets its wood pellets from, was continuing to campaign against the company’s use of unsustainably felled, large whole tree trunks  for its pellets.

DRAX GROUP PLC PRELIMINARY RESULTS FOR THE YEAR ENDED 31 DECEMBER 2012 – “Biomass transformation well underway”; February 19, 2013, identified  Enviva, Green Circle, Pinnacle and Plum Creek as amongst the North American biomass suppliers that it has contracts with for the supply of wood pellets and sustainable forest fibre.

Enviva is the company identified in the Dogwood Alliance video that is felling whole trees in the Southern wetlands, in order to provide wood pellets for European biomass power plants including Drax.

This undermines Drax’s claim that all its biomass is procured against its own robust sustainability criteria, including greenhouse gas emissions reduction requirements and habitat and biodiversity protection.

Scot Quaranda, Campaign Director for Dogwood Alliance, said:

“In the wake of mounting scientific documentation that burning trees for electricity will result in increased carbon emissions compared to fossil fuels, this report underscores the need for new climate policies.  Energy companies in the UK, including Drax, RWE and E.On are converting large, old, dirty and inefficient coal power stations to biomass all in the name of reducing carbon emissions, but the reality is that this shift will accelerate climate change while also driving destructive industrial logging in the world’s most biologically diverse temperate forests.”

More info in the downloadable Dogwood Alliance Whole Tree Wood Pellet Production Report.

Drax biomass subsidies start at £180m/year and look set to rise to £726m/year after 2016

As well as being environmentally unfriendly, biomass elecricity generation is extremely costly. Drax calculates that it costs £8 per gigajoule – around three times the cost of coal-fired electricity generation. So it’s heavily dependent on subsidies.


Through the so-called Renewable Obligation Certificate (ROC), Drax will receive a UK government subsidy payment that’s worth about £43 per megawatt hour on top of the market price of the electricity it generates. Like a ginormous feed in tariff, straight into corporate coffers.


The Financial Times reports that the first of the three Drax units to be converted to biomass will swallow around £180m/year of publicly-funded subsidies. This compares to Drax’s pre-tax profits in 2012 of £190m.


After 2017, when ROC payments are replaced by the “contracts for difference” payments introduced in the new Energy Bill, Drax will be guaranteed £105 per megawatt hour. This is twice the current wholesale price for electricity.


At this stage Drax would be gobbling publicly-funded subsidies of £726m/year.


Updated 10 Dec 2013 with info about Dogwood Alliance campaign and costs of public subsidies

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