Drax once again in the spotlight over UK government subsidies

  • Post last modified:March 6, 2024
  • Reading time:16 mins read

Climate justice campaigners from across the UK climate crisis movement – including Green Party peer Jenny Jones – gathered outside the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (DESNZ) in London on Tuesday 5 March. The protest was calling on the government not to renew subsidies for burning wood in Drax Power Station in Yorkshire and Lynemouth Power Station in Northumberland.

Drax: stop burning trees

Campaigners from groups including Biofuelwatch, Stop Burning Trees, Friends of the Earth, Extinction Rebellion, Money Rebellion, Fossil Free London, Campaign Against Climate Change, Stop Rosebank, and Greenpeace joined together to say a loud ‘NO’ to government proposals to grant new subsidies from UK energy bills to companies that burn trees for electricity:

Drax protest

Speakers included Jones and Doug Parr, policy director for Greenpeace:

Doug Parr Greenpeace

Banners reading ‘DESNZ: Stop Funding Forest Destruction’ and ‘Stop Burning Trees’ were hung up outside DESNZ:

Tories propping Drax up with public money

In January, the UK government launched a consultation on extending subsidies for burning wood. Its Impact Assessment suggested that the highest likely amount of subsidies could be up to £2.5bn per year for Drax and Lynemouth (the only two generators eligible). There was no clear end date mentioned in the consultation for the proposed new subsidies.

There has been strong opposition to the government’s proposals for new wood-burning subsidies from NGOs, MPs, scientists, and the general public.

Campaigners argue that if these subsidies are approved, the UK could be locked into many years of tree burning, at huge cost to forests, wildlife, communities, and the climate. As the Canary previously reported, a BBC investigation exposed Drax for continuing to source wood from rare primary forests in British Columbia.

A “disgrace”

Katy Brown, bioenergy campaigner for Biofuelwatch, said:

It’s a disgrace this government is even considering giving more of our money to Drax, the UK’s single biggest carbon emitter and the world’s biggest tree burner. If they go ahead after these new revelations about Drax yet again being caught out sourcing from primary old-growth forest in Canada, they are making it clear they do not care about forests, communities or the planet.

Wherever Drax sources its wood animals, wildlife, biodiversity and local communities are harmed. To have any hope of reducing harmful climate change we need to stop emissions from burning things now. There should be absolutely no more subsidies for tree burning in power stations. We need investment in genuine renewables and climate action, not corporate scams.

Drax, the larger of the two power stations set to benefit, is the UK’s single largest carbon emitter, and world’s biggest tree burner. The company currently receives around £1.7 million per day in renewable subsidies from UK energy bills to burn wood.

Stop burning things

Dr Doug Parr, policy director for Greenpeace UK, said:

Clear cutting forests in order to burn them has never been seen as environmentally friendly, for all of the obvious reasons. When you add on the impacts of pellet processing, which disproportionately exposes communities of colour to toxic air pollution, there’s very little green about the UK’s biomass programme.

The energy sector needs to move on from burning things and embrace the incredibly efficient and versatile renewable technologies that just get cheaper and cheaper, wind and solar.

Now that energy storage has joined renewables on their plunging price trajectory, there are few arguments left for thermal power plants burning fossil fuels or uranium, and certainly not when they burn protected ecosystems.

Drax: driving “environmental racism”

In the southern US, Drax has been accused of ‘driving environmental racism’ due to the harmful air pollution emitted by its pellet production.

Katherine Egland, deputy director of the Education, Economics, Environmental, Climate and Health Organization and chair of the Environmental and Climate Justice Committee for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) National Board, said of Drax’s US operations:

Our US government must end the sacrifice of the vulnerable Black communities in the Southeast who’re being exposed to deadly levels of chemicals to manufacture wood pellets to be burned for energy in other countries. Our own government must not be complicit in aiding and abetting the environmentally racist assaults committed by UK-based Drax.

What Drax is doing to our communities would be illegal in the UK. Why are we allowing Drax’s greed driven annihilation of communities of color here in the US? Burning forests for fuel is not only foolish, but dangerous to people and planet. We need to transition to clean, safe carbon-free renewable energy.

Climate wrecking

Drax and Lynemouth are both supplied by Enviva, which regularly obtains wood from the clearing of extremely biodiverse coastal hardwood forests. Campaigners argue that extending the subsidies would continue the harm caused to forests, communities and the planet by the wood biomass industry.

Featured image and additional images via Biofuelwatch/Tom Dulat/Crispin Hughes

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