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Drax under fire from protesters over subsidies for coal and wood power

Protesters outside Drax's power station in Yorkshire
Protesters outside Drax's power station in Yorkshire

Energy giant Drax faced protests during its annual general meeting in London over its use of public subsidies to support its coal and wood-burning power station.

Protesters came to the Drax power station site near Selby, North Yorkshire on 20 April, 2015. They also campaigned outside the company’s AGM in London on the same date, with banners stating ‘axe Drax’.

Speaking from the AGM protest in London, Biofuelwatch campaigner Duncan Law Biofuelwatch said: “DECC are calling biomass burning in power stations like Drax a ‘transition technology’, and a closer look at Drax’s strongly suggests that the power station’s lifespan is indeed limited.

“But the impacts of the logging in the US, which is feeding Drax today, will be long-lasting, if not permanent. Precious wetland forests, once they have been cut down, may never recover. Plant and animal species at home in these forests are being driven closer to the brink of extinction.”

Eliza Rea-Miotto, spokeswoman from People and Planet Sheffield, said: “When it is so clear that true renewables are the key to an environmentally sustainable future, it is heartbreaking to see mass environmental destruction carried out in the name of ‘renewable energy’.

“Today we stand together to demand an end to huge government subsidy of Drax’s biomass burning, and to demand a cleaner future of energy generation.”

Moving away from coal

A Drax spokesperson told Bioenergy Insight: “Using the latest technology Drax has transformed itself from being a coal fired power station into Europe’s largest decarbonisation project.

 “The support we receive from Government has helped us upgrade half the power station to generate electricity using sustainable pellets made from low grade wood – thinnings and residues that might otherwise be left unused.

 “We never cause deforestation or forest decline. We only take wood from working forests that grow back and stay as forests. We never source from areas that are officially protected or where our activities would harm endangered species.

 “The sustainable pellets we use reduce many air pollutants and cut carbon emissions by more than 80% compared to coal.  As a result Drax is now playing a very significant role in producing renewable energy and is a key player in helping the UK hit it’s clean energy targets.”

'Three remaining coal units'

Speaking at the company’s AGM meeting, Drax chairman, Philip Cox, said: “ An increase in the use of sustainably sourced biomass is the fastest, safest and most affordable means by which the UK can move away from coal and support more wind and solar generating capacity in the future.

“With the right policy frameworks we could become 100% renewable through the full conversion of our three remaining coal units and we could do this well before 2025. We will continue to work closely with the government to help them reduce the UK's reliance on coal.”

Drax, the biggest single power station in Britain at 4 gigawatts, providing 8% of the country’s electricity, used to burn 10m tonnes of coal a year but it was reduced to 6m last year as the facility was switched to a mixture of coal and wood.

Drax has said it would like to move to 100% wood burning within three years but it will require further financial aid from ministers to do so, with talks about this strategy currently under way.

Protesters outside Drax's power station in Yorkshire