Forest, coal and environmental justice activists gathered outside Drax Plc’s Annual General Meeting (AGM) in York today(25/04/18). There was a simultaneous protest in Liverpool, where biomass wood pellets arrive at Peel Port from the southern US before being taken to be burnt at Drax Power Station by train.
Drax is the biggest consumer of coal in the UK. It now also burns wood pellets, which make up 70% of the energy it produces.
Having converted four of its units to biomass since 2009, Drax is now the largest burner of wood for electricity in the world, for which it received £729 million in government subsidies in 2017, paid out of a surcharge on electricity bills. Last year the company announced plans to substantially rebuild its remaining two coal-fired units to run on gas, which will require further subsidies.
Drax burns coal from four countries. The USA, domestically mined coal, Colombia and Russia supply coal in decreasing proportions. The monster power stations hunger for coal is causing huge issues for people living close to the opencast and deep mines which supply the power station and ecological destrcution.
The Campaign to Protect Pont Valley is currently trying to stop a new opencast coal mine opening in Bradley in Durham. The issues faced here are common to communities fighting UK opencast. Problems include dust contamination causing health issues, increased HGV traffic, noise and light pollution and the complete destruction of the land which has deep meaning for local people.
In the Kuzbass region of Russia, the main coal field exporting to the UK coal is causing cultural genocide of the indigenous Shor and Teleut people who are displaced from their land and the wildlife which they live in harmony with is frightened away, rivers are polluted and communities degraded.
Drax and its primary US supplier Enviva have recently come under fire after Channel 4’s Dispatches programme exposed the clearcutting of biodiverse forests to be made into pellets in Virginia.
Duncan Law from Biofuelwatch said, “Burning trees for power emits as much carbon dioxide as coal. Drax is cooking the climate and destroying forests in other countries to feed its power station. The pellet industry destroys the habitat of red wolves, black bears, salamanders and a number of bird species in the southern US. If Drax was serious about producing more sustainable energy, this is the last thing it would be doing.”
Campaigners handed out leaflets to the general public and an Investor Briefing for those attending the AGM explaining why biomass is a poor investment in financial and planetary terms. They were joined by a range of speakers including former Green Party leader Natalie Bennett.
George Grace from Liverpool said: “We are a group of local residents concerned by the continued deforestation being done in the name of progress. Furthermore we object to the subsidy provided by UK government to Drax, which is supposed to be available only to low carbon generators. The burning of wood pellets which are shipped to the UK via Liverpool Freeport before onward rail transportation to Drax Power Station in Selby releases more carbon into the atmosphere than coal. Peel Holdings profit handsomely from this trade and benefit from Drax’s subsidies.”
The protest has been organised by a coalition of local and national groups including Biofuelwatch, Coal Action Network and local anti-fracking, pro-renewable energy and environmental justice campaigners.