Warning note sounded on UK biomass

16 August 2022

The importing of wood to burn in Drax power station “is not sustainable” and “doesn’t make any sense”, the business and energy secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, told a private meeting of members of parliament on 9 August.

Burning biomass to produce energy is an important part of the UK government’s net zero strategy and has received £5.6 bn in subsidies over the last decade. However the issue is contentious – scientists and campaigners have for some time questioned whether burning wood to produce electricity is ‘green; and some have argued that it can even increase CO2 emissions.

The meeting was recorded and a copy received by The Guardian newspaper, which reported its main content on 11 August. Reportedly Kwarteng also conceded that some of the sustainability premises had not been thoroughly investigated, but re-iterated that biomass was a necessary part of climate action in the UK.

His contention was that biomass burning is not automatically helping carbon emissions reduction, and highlighted the importation of wood pellets from North America to Britain as being arguable from an emissions point of view.

The report impacted the Drax share price which fell 10% in early trading the next day.

About 80% of the wood pellets burned by Drax come from North America. Since 2019 Drax has received £2.5bn in subsidies for its power station, which previously burned coal. The subsidies are due to end in 2027, but Drax is hoping to gain new subsidies by adding carbon capture technology to its plant.

The UK government has launched a consultation on how to support the development of biomass energy generation with associated carbon captured in the UK over the next decade.

A government spokesperson said: “The UK government only supports biomass which complies with our strict sustainability criteria and will shortly publish our biomass strategy, which will further detail our position on its future use.”

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