New Campaign Urges UK to End Biomass Subsidies

NRDC Investigation

The United Kingdom’s clean energy transition has a dirty little secret: biomass energy.

The country has sought to curtail its dependence on coal and boost its reliance on renewable energy alternatives instead. In doing so, it seeks to be a world leader in addressing climate change.

But the UK cannot be a climate leader while offering billions of pounds in subsidies to Drax and other power stations that burn wood as fuel under the false pretense that it is environmentally friendly. Cutting down forests to burn trees for electricity is no better for the climate than burning coal. And it destroys nature’s best tool to pull carbon from the atmosphere, exacerbates the dramatic threats already faced by wildlife, and endangers local communities. 

£13 BILLION subsidy for biomass power plants 'should be reviewed': Daily Mail

Now, as the country looks to emerge from the coronavirus crisis, the UK must build a true clean energy economy. A new campaign that NRDC is helping lead, Cut Carbon Not Forests, is aimed at directing public pressure on Parliamentarians to end financial subsidies to Drax Power and others for dirty biomass energy. This action looks at the climate crisis facing our world and makes it an urgent priority to redirect this support to true green energy like solar and wind power.

In response to new scientific research showing the adverse consequences of biomass energy, in 2018 the UK government introduced new rules that would effectively stop subsidies for new wood-burning power stations. However, the rules do not halt existing subsidies, and those are set to continue until 2027. That’s absurd. It’s long past time to end this support. 

According to Drax, in 2019 its facility emitted 12.8 million tonnes of CO2 solely from the combustion of biomass. This is almost 3 million tonnes more than what the UK’s Committee on Climate Change—the government’s independent advisor—has recommended is needed in carbon reductions to meet the UK’s 4th and 5th Carbon Budgets (10 million tonnes/year reduction). Yet Drax maintains its license to treat these emissions as if they don’t exist.

NRDC has long argued that it’s not climate friendly to cut down trees from treasured Southeast hardwood forests, ship the wood pellets across the ocean and burn them in power plants. The new campaign shows in vivid detail how destructive this process is and calls for the immediate end to more than £1 billion pounds a year British energy consumers are made to spend to prop up this fake climate solution. Billions in renewables subsidies currently wasted on dirty biomass energy must end now and the savings should be redirected towards truly clean and renewable energy sources like wind and solar energy.

Check out the dramatic Facebook ads here:

Does this look like clean energy?
Our house is on fire.
Don’t leave them homeless.
Does this look clean?

Jon Albert/Nature in Stock

Cut Carbon Not Forests will spotlight British constituents’ outrage about the UK’s reliance on this false climate solution as they urge their local MPs to remove subsidies from companies that burn trees for electricity.

Research shows British public opinion aligns with a push toward biomass subsidy reform. YouGov polling last year found 82% of respondents were worried about the impact on wildlife if trees in forests were being cut down to supply power plants. A full 97% of respondents opposed government support for biomass energy that relied on wood shipped in from overseas forests, which is just what the UK is doing.

Without further reform, UK energy billpayers will spend £13 billion in direct support to large biomass power plants through 2027 when most subsidies are due to end, including £10bn for Drax alone, according to a new report by climate think tank Ember. These subsidies rest on the false assumption that burning trees for electricity is a climate solution, yet government policy continues to lag behind scientific consensus. 

For more on this campaign, check out the website: https://www.cutcarbonnotforests.org/

About the Authors

Sasha Stashwick

Senior Advocate, Climate & Clean Energy Program

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