A supposedly ‘green’ power station subsidised with public money is Britain’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gas, research shows.
Drax in Yorkshire burns wood pellets, which are treated as a ‘renewable’ fuel and the site has attracted more than £800million of taxpayer subsidies.
But analysis shows that the burning of wood for power – known as biomass – has been the cause of more carbon dioxide emissions than coal since 2019.
Drax burns millions of tonnes of wood to provide around 12 per cent of the UK’s total electric power, generating 15.6megatonnes (Mt) of carbon dioxide emissions each year, which cause the planet to heat up by trapping heat around the Earth – the greenhouse effect.
The power station is also one of the top five emitters in Europe of toxic air pollution particles known as PM10.
Currently accounting rules allow Drax to be treated as ‘carbon neutral’.
It is argued that emissions from burning wood are offset by the growth of new trees to replace those harvested for burning – although trees burnt may have taken 40-100 years to reach maturity.
This assumption, shared by the EU and UK Government makes it eligible for significant public subsidy.
But scientific opinion is changing, and wood burning is increasingly seen as making climate change worse. The European Academies Science Advisory Council states that using woody biomass for power ‘is not effective in mitigating climate change and may even increase the risk of dangerous climate change.’
The research from pressure group Ember also shows emissions from burning wood now far exceed those from burning coal. Wood burning is now the second largest contributor to the power sector’s CO2 emissions overall after fossil gas.
Drax is Europe’s third largest CO2 emitter, exceeded only by Belchatow in Poland and Neurath in Germany. In the UK, Drax leads CO2 emissions, with RWE’s Pembroke gas power station coming in second with 4.3Mt of CO2.
The scale of PM10 emissions by Drax makes it one of the top five emitters of PM10 air pollution in Europe putting it in the same company as some of Continent’s worst coal power plants.
But a Drax spokesman said: ‘Ember’s interpretation of the figures for Drax’s CO2 emissions is inaccurate and completely at odds with what the world’s leading climate scientists at the UN IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] say about sustainable biomass being crucial to delivering global climate targets…
‘Converting Drax power station to use sustainable biomass instead of coal transformed the business into Europe’s biggest decarbonisation project and has helped Britain decarbonise its electricity system at a faster rate than any other major economy.’