Kwasi Kwarteng says biomass wood imports are “not sustainable”

Cooling towers at Drax, North Yorkshire (image credit: / Phil Silverman).

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng told a private meeting of MPs this week that Drax’s imports of US-made wood pellets to be burnt for energy are “not sustainable”. He added that it “doesn’t make sense” and told MPs the government had not fully investigated the sustainability of burning wood pellets, a type of biomass. In a further blow to Drax, which receives billions in government subsidies, Kwarteng admitted that while BEIS has discussed biomass with industry, “we haven’t actually questioned some of the premises” of the sustainability of pellets.

Elly Pepper, Senior Advocate for NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) and Cut Carbon Not Forests, says:

“Kwasi Kwarteng’s view is part of a growing consensus that burning trees for electricity has been tried and failed on the tests of climate, nature, and affordability. Biomass power puts some of the world’s most precious forests at risk. It makes climate change worse, not better. And compared to other renewables that are getting cheaper all the time, its price has remained steady. Like fossil fuels, burning biomass also requires huge amounts of water to be abstracted for cooling, increasing water stress at times of drought. A clean and affordable energy future means ending support for biomass and investing in energy efficiency measures and cheap renewables like wind and solar.”

Almuth Ernsting, Co-Director of Biofuelwatch says:

“We are pleased that Kwasi Kwarteng is starting to acknowledge what hundreds of scientists have been saying for a long time: Burning trees for energy accelerates climate change rather than slowing it down. It also harms biodiversity, and harms communities affected by air pollution. In the UK, biomass energy from trees on a vast scale is largely driven by subsidies for biomass electricity. The government must end those subsidies and focus support on energy savings and clean, non-emissive renewables like wind and solar power, which are also cheaper than biomass electricity.”

Water usage is also an issue
With the UK said to be on the cusp of a major drought, threatening to impact sweeping areas of the country, the energy industry is depleting our water sources far beyond what is needed to supply peoples’ homes, campaigners insist. Elly Pepper, a campaigner with Cut Carbon Not Forests, commented:

“The energy industry is one of the biggest users of water in the UK. It takes more water out of rivers, streams, lakes, and the sea than is used for the entire water supply for peoples’ homes. Fossil fuel plants that use oil, gas, and coal, and that burn trees, use this water for cooling. Drax power company alone uses 64 billion litres of water per year across its biomass, coal, and gas power plants. That’s the same as 4.5 days’ worth of the UK’s entire water supply.

“Not only is biomass power wrecking forests and making climate change worse, it’s also vulnerable to drought – this isn’t energy security, it’s the opposite. Replacing biomass and fossil fuels with renewables like wind and solar will bring down energy bills and make the energy system more resilient to future droughts and dry weather.”