The importing of wooden to burn in Drax energy station “just isn’t sustainable” and “doesn’t make any sense”, the enterprise and vitality secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, advised a non-public assembly of MPs this week.
The remarks are important because the burning of biomass to supply vitality is a crucial a part of the UK authorities’s internet zero technique and has received £5.6bn in subsidies from vitality invoice payers during the last decade. Scientists and campaigners have lengthy argued that burning wooden to supply electrical energy is way from inexperienced and might even enhance the CO2 emissions driving the local weather disaster.
In a recording of the assembly obtained by the Guardian, Kwarteng additionally admitted “we haven’t truly questioned a few of the [sustainability] premises of it”. He stated the federal government’s advisers, the Local weather Change Committee, had stated biomass was a essential a part of local weather motion within the UK.
However Kwarteng added: “I can nicely see some extent the place we simply draw the road and say, ‘This isn’t working, this doesn’t assist carbon emission discount, that’s it – we should always finish it.’ All I’m saying is that we haven’t fairly reached that time but.” Drax’s share value fell 10% in early buying and selling on Wednesday, wiping about £280m off the worth of the corporate.
About 80% of the wooden pellets burned by Drax come from North America. Kwarteng stated: “There’s no level getting it from Louisiana – that isn’t sustainable … transporting these wooden pellets midway internationally – that doesn’t make any sense to me in any respect.” Since 2019, when Kwarteng grew to become an vitality minister, Drax has obtained £2.5bn in subsidies for its energy station, which beforehand burned coal.
The subsidies are attributable to finish in 2027, however Drax is hoping to realize new subsidies by including carbon seize know-how to its plant. This may imply the CO2 taken from the ambiance when the bushes grew would find yourself buried underground, probably lowering CO2 ranges. This course of accounts for about three-quarters of the “damaging emissions” that the government’s net zero strategy says the UK should seize.
The European Academies Science Advisory Council stated final yr that burning wooden in energy stations was “not effective in mitigating climate change and will even enhance the danger of harmful local weather change”. Environmental campaigners additionally say harvesting the wooden damages forests.
One MP on the assembly advised Kwarteng: “It could take 100 years to develop a tree however 100 seconds to combust it. So, except we even have a measure of how a lot CO2 is being launched in the identical time period as is being sequestered by new development, it appears to me ludicrous to say that that is carbon impartial.” One other MP stated: “It’s chopping down large numbers of forests and it’s not defensible.”
A authorities official additionally advised the MPs that transferring to UK-sourced biomass wouldn’t essentially assure sustainability. They stated: “Simply because they’re sourced domestically doesn’t imply they are going to be much less carbon intensive.”
A authorities spokesperson stated: “[Kwarteng] has at all times been clear biomass has a key function to play in boosting Britain’s vitality safety, having equipped sufficient dependable renewable electrical energy to maintain the lights on for 4 million households. The extra homegrown energy like biomass we generate at dwelling, the much less uncovered we’ll be to risky gasoline costs pushing up payments.
“The UK authorities solely helps biomass which complies with our strict sustainability standards and can shortly publish our biomass technique, which is able to additional element our place on its future use,” the spokesperson stated.
The federal government launched a consultation on Wednesday on potential business models to pay for a primary biomass burning plant fitted with carbon seize. In distinction to his feedback to MPs, Kwarteng stated on launching the session: “The federal government is absolutely behind biomass vitality to offer extra energy in Britain.”
Drax didn’t reply to a request for touch upon Kwarteng’s remarks to MPs. On the session, the chief government of Drax, Will Gardiner, stated: “The federal government is paving the way in which for the UK to steer the world in deploying very important carbon removing applied sciences like bioenergy with carbon seize and storage. [This technology] is significant to vitality safety and internet zero as a result of it could produce dependable renewable energy while additionally completely eradicating CO2 from the ambiance – no different know-how does each.”