A Good Week for Forests, a Bad Week for Bioenergy

The AGM of any company is usually a positive week in its financial calendar. But for power company Drax it proved one of the most challenging weeks in many years. This is GOOD NEWS for forests.

Here’s why Drax had a VERY BAD WEEK recently:

1. Drax’s OWN scientists challenged its carbon neutrality claims

Drax has an Independent Advisory Board, including some of the UK’s leading scientists. Last week, Sky News revealed that last year this Board told Drax that it needs to stop calling biomass “carbon neutral.” It also told Drax to stop claiming it only burns  “waste”—a term often used by the bioenergy industry to imply that the wood it burns—that has a critical role for wildlife and for storing carbon—has no value. 

Drax said it would take on board these recommendations, and report back. We’re watching this space.

2. Drax  is being investigated by the UK’s energy regulator

After BBC Panorama showed last year that Drax may be logging included primary forests in Canada for bioenergy, the Financial Times revealed that the UK’s energy regulator—Ofgem—is investigating Drax.

Ofgem gives the biomass that Drax biomass the stamp of approval as “sustainable,” enabling it to be seen as “green’ and receive significant subsidies. But burning wood from forests in Canada, the United States, Estonia, and elsewhere, is harming nature and wildlife, not to mention the climate.

The documents also show that Ofgem is more concerned about avoiding external scrutiny  than actually protecting the environment. 

3. The UK Government wants to WEAKEN sustainability rules for biomass

news article last week based on leaked documents also revealed that the UK Government is planning to update the sustainability criteria for biomass. One of the options the Government is considering is to weaken the rules intended to protect nature from biomass harvesting by  converting them from laws to voluntary guidance. If the sustainability rules became guidance, companies could receive billions of pounds for burning trees without any requirements to protect nature, forests, or the climate.

While news of weakened sustainability criteria, on its face, isn’t bad for Drax—the fact that this is now public IS. Now that these documents have now been exposed, hopefully the Government will see sense and strengthen these rules, not weaken them.

4. Americans affected by Drax’s pollution visited the UK

Finally, Dr. Krystal Martin and Katherine Egland visited he UK during the week of Drax’s AGM to speak out the impacts of Drax on their communities–impoverished communities of color in the U.S. Southeast. Specifically, they described how the wood pellet and dust pollution is affecting people’s health in these areas.

They spoke at events, viewed Drax’s power station in Selby, Yorkshire, and attended Drax’s AGM. They made it hard for Drax to forget that burning trees from the U.S. in its UK power station has real impacts on people’s lives and health, especially underserved communities of color

In a few weeks’ time, the UK Government plans to publish a new Biomass Strategy—the first since 2012. It’s clear that burning trees for energy is bad for people and their health, bad for nature and the climate, and that the bioenergy industry itself is losing confidence in its carbon neutral claims.

This is one of the most impactful weeks for those who care about forests, want an end to burning trees for electricity, and let’s hope it hits home with the Government.

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