LONDON – A new online YouGov poll has found fewer than one in four Britons (23%) think electricity generated by burning wood from forests should be classified as ‘renewable energy’. Additionally, 55% also disagreed with the Government’s continued subsidies for this dirty source of energy as part of the UK’s renewable energy strategy. Currently, the government gives more than £2 million per day in subsidies to power stations that burn biomass.
Instead, 82% of respondents agree that the UK should aim to preserve recent improvements in air quality by switching to energy sources with no associated air pollution emissions. While the public overwhelmingly backs support for wind (80%) and solar energy (82%), only 3% say the Government should help companies that burn wood sourced from forests overseas, the poll found. Nearly all UK biomass is imported.
The YouGov poll was jointly commissioned in July 2020 by Biofuelwatch, Dogwood Alliance, NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) and the Southern Environmental Law Center. [To request the full data tables, please email Richard Scarlett or Emma Briggs at NRDC@finnpartners.com.]
"The views of the public are clear: Burning wood for electricity is both unpopular and destructive,” said Sasha Stashwick, a senior advocate with NRDC. “It’s time for the government to end the wasteful subsidies for this polluting industry – especially when people don’t even consider it to be renewable energy. In this respect, our data shows a striking disconnect between government policy and public opinion.”
Burning biomass releases more carbon pollution than coal at the plant smokestack and emits dangerous air pollution. The UK is currently the largest user of biomass electricity in Europe, and much of the wood in question is cut down and shipped in from sensitive forests overseas, destroying habitats and wildlife. The data shows support for the protection of these natural forests and the wildlife that depends on them, with 85% worried about the impact on wildlife if trees in forests are being cut down to generate electricity.
Biomass industry proponents claim that burning forest wood as fuel in power stations is ‘renewable’ because the carbon dioxide (CO2) it emits is reabsorbed by new trees. However this process takes decades, if the new trees grow back at all. When asked how many years it should take for a low or zero carbon energy source to reabsorb the same amount of CO2 it emits into the atmosphere, 58% said within ten years and just 18% think it should take longer. 57% respondents do not believe electricity generated in this way should be classed as ‘renewable energy.’
Other key findings include:
- 82% believe the government should promote solar power as a renewable energy source, closely followed by wind power (80%), hydroelectric power (71%), biomass using food, garden and waste wood from home or industry (58%).
- In contrast, only 8% said the government should promote biomass using British forest wood, and only 3% said government should promote biomass using wood from overseas forests.
- Just 23% of the public agree that the UK Government should subsidise power stations to generate electricity by burning wood biomass as part of the UK renewable energy strategy. 55% of the public disagree with this.
- And 57% of people say that lockdown has made them expect to need to reduce their overall household spending in the next 12 months.
“No technology that pumps more carbon into the atmosphere or destroys forests should ever be receiving billpayer funds,” said Almuth Ernsting of Biofuelwatch. “With household budgets already under pressure, the UK cannot continue to waste precious subsidies on a fake climate solution that increases electricity costs. This is especially true given our abundance of affordable, clean and truly renewable energy sources like wind and solar power.”
Last month, the same coalition of environmental advocacy groups launched Cut Carbon Not Forests, a campaign to remove subsidies from companies that burn trees for electricity and shift the savings to genuinely clean and renewable energy solutions.