The European Commission opened an investigation into a UK request to grant public support to Drax to convert a coal-fired power installation to biomass combustion. This is a second Commission investigation after it looked into requested aid for the conversion of the Lynemouth plant last year.
The UK has requested approval for GBP 1.3 billion in state aid to Drax over the next 10 years for the conversion of a third unit at the Drax power station. This unit would provide 645 Megawatts of electricity by burning approximately 2.4 million tonnes of wood pellets a year – nine per cent of the current global pellet market.
The Commission will consider whether the aid is proportional; that is, whether the positive effects in achieving climate and environmental objectives outweigh the potential distortion of the electricity and the raw materials markets. Interested parties have been invited to provide input to the investigation.
As Fern’s report shows, large-scale facilities achieve the opposite of what they intend: they often burn large volumes of wood at a very low rate of efficiency, wasting a lot of material. They also worsen air quality and emit huge amounts of CO2.
Perhaps more importantly, they rely on imports of wood from sometimes highly biodiverse forest with limited environmental protection and from areas where peoples’ customary rights to land are not always respected, such as the US, Canada and Brazil.
Fern urges the Commission to reflect on the social, environmental and climate impacts that large-scale biomass burners are causing, and which this Drax unit will aggravate further. The Commission should acknowledge that there is a limited supply of biomass in the EU and globally.
Further reliance on imports will encourage social conflict over land and increase deforestation abroad – undermining EU objectives on tackling global deforestation and biodiversity loss.
Image: Katy Stoddart via Flickr