Across the UK, companies are planning to cash in on a subsidy bonanza for electricity from burning biofuels. Producing one megawatt from biofuels such as palm oil attracts up to twice as many “green energy” subsidies (Renewable Obligation Certificates or ROCs) as gaining the same energy from onshore wind.
One company, Vogen Energy, applied for permission to build a vegetable oil power station in Newport, Pembrokeshire. Some 10,000 hectares of oil palm plantations would be required to supply it.
In Indonesia alone, the government plans over 20 million hectares more oil palm plantations, primarily due to Europe’s energy policy. This probably means the complete loss of rainforests on Sumatra, Borneo and possibly West Papua. It also means the destruction of the livelihoods of millions of people: small farmers and communities who stand in the way of plantations are often violently evicted from their land and homes.
Palm oil is by far the cheapest vegetable oil and is used exclusively by biofuel power stations in Germany and Italy. The climate impacts of power stations in Germany were summed up by peat expert Professor Florian Siegert of Munich university: “We were able to prove that the making of these plantations and the burning of the rainforests and peat areas emits many thousands of times as much CO2 as we then are able to prevent by using palm oil [instead of petrol]. And that is a disastrous balance for the climate.”
For local residents living close to biofuel power stations, air pollution means a greater risk of respiratory and cardiac disease.
Following hundreds of objections by local residents and a campaign by Biofuelwatch, Food not Fuel, and Friends of the Earth Newport, on 9 September Newport Planning Committee voted eight to one against Vogen’s application.
In September, two other local authority planning committees also voted against similar applications by different companies. Newport campaigners hold a local protest against biofuel subsidies on 10 October.