Burned up – wood-fuelled electricity could be more damaging than coal

15th August 2018 | Commercial Energy

The UK’s voracious appetite for wood-fuelled energy is sounding alarm bells among environmental advocates, health groups, and those living near clear-cut forests. If the public understood that we are using public money raised from electricity bill payers to subsidize the clear-cutting of American forests and increasing carbon emissions in the atmosphere, then they would be outraged.

Drax Power, the country’s largest utility, began converting its old coal-fired boilers into ones that run on wood a decade ago, with the financial support of the UK Government. In 2017, subsidies to Drax cost Britons £729 million, or nearly £2 million per day. These subsidies fuelled a voracious demand: the UK is now the world’s top importer of wood pellets. This has put the country out of step with the realities of climate science, economics, and the needs of the electricity grid.

Scientists do not see largescale use of biomass for electricity as the preferred de-carbonization approach. But that didn’t stop the Department of Energy, Business & Industrial Strategy from approving another biomass conversion at Drax Power Station this year.

Burned Wood

The public is now becoming more aware that burning trees is not good for the environment, and voices against biomass are growing louder. In April 2018, Dispatches aired a hard-hitting investigative report exposing the destruction behind the UK’s move to replace dirty coal with wood fuel. As Dispatched journalists uncovered, in parts of the Southern US, unique hardwood forests that are massive storehouses of carbon are being clear cut, manufactured into wood pellets, and loaded on ships destined for Drax’s boilers.

Back in January 2019, researchers at MIT found that when plants switch to biomass, “the first impact is an increase in carbon dioxide, worsening global warming over the critical period through to 2100, even if the wood offsets coal, the most carbon-intensive fossil fuel.”

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