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European lawsuit threatens Drax power plant

SCL Drax Eco Store Completion 076

The future of the Drax biomass power plant in North Yorkshire has been dealt a blow, after lawyers from six countries filed a case with the European General Court challenging the treatment of forest biomass as a renewable energy source.

They argue that a decision to include forest or wood-based biomass in the European Union (EU) 2018 revised Renewable Energy Directive (RED II) could “accelerate widespread forest devastation and significantly increase greenhouse gas emissions by not counting carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from burning wood fuels”.

If the challenge is successful it could seriously impact the 4,000MW Drax biomass plant in North Yorkshire as it would face more stringent rules on pollution and lose access to subsidies for renewables. 

In 2016, Drax completed the conversion of three coal fired boilers to run on biomass. The plant burns 7M.t of compressed wood pellets annually. These are produced by Drax and sourced from sustainably managed forests in the United States. 

Plaintiffs from Estonia, France, Ireland, Romania, Slovakia, and the US are presenting scientific evidence that wood-biomass plants release more carbon dioxide per unit of energy generated than coal. But this carbon dioxide is not counted towards emissions targets as wood biomass is classed as a renewable energy source under the RED II directive.  

In 2016, nearly half the renewable energy produced in the EU came from wood-based biomass fuels, and demand for the technology is expected to increase with RED II.

If the case is successful, wood biomass plants would no longer be counted as renewable energy sources, and would be subject to tighter emissions controls. New projects would be no longer be eligible for a recently-announced £8.5bn pot of renewable energy funding.  

Lead science advisor to the six countries Mary Booth said: “The EU’s policy relies on the false and reckless assumption that burning forest wood is carbon neutral,” Booth said. “However, scientists from around the world, including the EU’s own science advisors, warned that burning forest wood actually increases emissions relative to fossil fuels.” 

Biomass UK head Benedict McAleenan speaking on behalf of Drax added: “Expert authorities around the world agree that we need bioenergy to fight climate change,” McAleenan said. “From the UN’s International Panel on Climate Change to the UK’s Committee on Climate Change, bioenergy is seen as key to cutting emissions. So we need robust regulations like the EU’s RED II to oversee its growth and ensure it’s delivered sustainably.

“These campaigners are seeking to dismantle the regulations before they’re even in place, based on theories about how the new rules will work. They should be rejected by the court,” he added. 

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