Stop subsidising energy firms that burn trees for electricity

Ministers must avoid handing out generous new subsidies for burning of wood imported from the United States, MPs have warned. The Government should instead be supporting British renewables which could slash households’ energy bills and carbon emissions.

Pauline Latham, Tory MP for Mid Derbyshire, said: “Burning wood for electricity is not getting any cheaper and depends entirely on expensive subsidies.

“It’s difficult to explain why we are considering giving more money to biomass to ship wood from the USA to burn instead of backing homegrown renewables, which will cut people’s bills and carbon.”

Energy company Drax, which burns forest biomass, made £893million in direct government subsidies in 2021.

The level of support fell to £617million in 2022 when electricity prices exceeded a “strike price” agreed to encourage renewable investment.

The firm, which provides around six per cent of the country’s electricity, failed to be shortlisted for government funding for its £2 billion carbon capture and storage (CCS) project last week.

Drax, based in Yorkshire, will instead hold formal talks with the Government after climate minister Graham Stuart called the firm and its carbon capture technology “critically important” to the UK and its net-zero plans.

Mr Stuart said that officials are working on bridging options for Drax to ensure its viability between 2027, when the company’s subsidies expire, and 2030.

Campaigners warned this raises the risk that Drax’s bill payer funded subsidies could be extended beyond 2027 when they were supposed to end.

Phil MacDonald, chief operating officer at think tank Ember said: “Energy bills are high enough already without people being charged to keep a tree burning company going.

“The UK must bring the experiment with biomass subsidies to an end in 2027, as agreed.

“Biomass hasn’t worked for energy bills and it isn’t working for climate.”

Tory MP Selaine Saxby warned the practice of burning trees for power risks fuelling deforestation overseas.

She said: “Woody biomass power isn’t cheap, clean or the best use of this waste material.

“It also risks fuelling deforestation abroad if other countries look to replace their coal plants with woody biomass power. Instead of burning wood pellets for electricity, we should back our timber industry to turn waste wood into furniture and construction materials, which store carbon and make our buildings more sustainable.”

A Drax spokesman said: “Drax is the UK’s biggest producer of renewable and dispatchable electricity, playing a critical role in supporting energy security while displacing fossil fuels. Biomass is the only source of reliable, renewable energy and our conversion from coal to biomass is one of the primary reasons that the UK’s power sector has decarbonised as fast as it has over the last decade.

“We are committed to ensuring the biomass we source delivers positive outcomes for the climate, for nature and for the communities in which we operate. Our methodology is aligned to the recommendations of leading scientific institutions like the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and we have robust sustainability standards in place to ensure our biomass meets the strict sustainability requirements of the countries in which we operate.”

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