UK Business Secretary: Biomass “Doesn’t Make Any Sense”

Clearcutting in Rapla County, Estonia

(c) Karl Adami

Treasury Minister Kwasi Kwarteng is raising serious doubts about whether biomass energy makes any sense from an environmental or financial perspective.

Indeed, the Financial Times has reported that in a meeting cross-party backbench Ministers of Parliament, Kwarteng was faced with many questions regarding the UK’s heavy reliance on biomass energy, mainly from Drax Power Station. In response, Kwarteng revealed serious doubts about whether biomass energy actually reduces carbon emissions, as well as its huge costs and impacts on the environment.

Here are a few of his statements from the meeting:

“There’s no point getting [wood pellets] from Louisiana . . . that isn’t sustainable . . . [and has] . . . a huge cost financially and environmentally . . . [it] doesn’t make any sense to me at all.”

“I can well see a point where we just draw the line and say [biomass] isn’t working, this doesn’t help carbon emission reduction and so we should end it . . . [a]ll I’m saying is that we haven’t quite reached that point yet.”

Kwarteng also noted that the government hasn’t “actually questioned some of the premises” of the sustainability of pellets,” suggesting that the country’s reliance on biomass is a business-as-usual approach that fails to incorporate the wealth of new information we have on its impacts.

And he’s not the only UK minister who has questioned biomass. Earlier this year, the Climate Change Committee’s David Joffe said there were “big challenges about ensuring the sustainability of biomass grown outside the UK” and that imported biomass was “not something that the UK should be relying on at large scale.” And Zac Goldsmith recently stated that there are “real problems” with burning wood for electricity.

Drax is also facing increasing pressure from those outside the UK government. Just weeks ago, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) agreed to further investigate a complaint from environmental groups that Drax is guilty of greenwashing. And new evidence has been released that biomass imported into the UK from Estonia likely violates the UK’s legally-binding sustainability criteria.

The writing on the wall is clear: biomass energy is not good for people or the planet and the UK should stop relying on it to meet net zero goals. Fortunately, the country has a huge opportunity to make this shift with its upcoming Bioenergy Strategy. Let's see if the government will listen to anyone...besides Drax.

About the Authors

Elly Pepper

Deputy Director, Global Biodiversity Conservation, Nature Program

Join Us

When you sign up you'll become a member of NRDC's Activist Network. We will keep you informed with the latest alerts and progress reports.