Back to Drax

IssueDecember 2016 - January 2017
News by Claire Robertson

On 22 October, around 60 British climate campaigners assembled in the autumn sunshine at the vast cooling towers of Drax power station in North Yorkshire. We were there to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the first Climate Camp, held at Drax, and to once more call for Drax’s closure, and an end to both coal and large-scale biomass burning in the UK.

Climate protesters were at Drax 10 years ago because, in burning 13m tonnes of coal and emitting over 20m tonnes of CO2 every year, it was the country’s single largest contributor to climate change. Since then, the climate movement has had many successes but Drax is still burning 6m tonnes of coal a year. This is possible because of the £470m in subsidies Drax receives each year for burning 6m tonnes of wood pellets every year.

Evidence is mounting that large-scale biomass burning, far from being a climate solution, is a climate disaster. Burning wood at Drax emits 40 percent more CO2 than coal per unit of electricity generated. Current government rules allow Drax to discount all of these emissions as ‘carbon neutral’. However, it takes minutes to burn a tree but decades for a new tree to grow, leaving us with unaccounted-for CO2 in the atmosphere.

The smokey life

Furthermore, Drax imports most of its wood from the southern USA. Campaigners there have documented the clear-cutting of virgin wetland forests to supply the wood pellet mills.

Meanwhile, coal mining in Colombia is having devastating effects on communities. At Drax, a powerful performance by Scarlet of Coal Action Network portrayed these effects: children’s lungs choked with coal dust, entire villages displaced and thousands of paramilitary-linked murders and disappearances.

Biomass is a dangerous false solution, holding us back from a true energy transformation. At Drax, speaker after speaker, from the Green Party’s Natalie Bennett to a local parish councillor opposing fracking, spoke of the future they wanted to see; one of decentralised, community-owned, wind, solar, hydro and tidal power, with warmer homes and energy storage.

We need to work together to halt fracking in its tracks, stop remaining coal-burning, end ‘big biomass’ and reclaim renewable power, in order to achieve climate justice for our own communities and for people around the world.