Drax announced its 2022 earnings on 23 February. The tree-burning firm raked in £731m, which is an 84% increase on the year before.
The bioenergy giant’s power plant in North Yorkshire is the UK’s single biggest emitter of carbon pollution, according to a 2021 analysis by climate and energy thinktank Ember. Despite this, Drax receives huge public subsidies to prop up its operations. This is because the government categorises the burning of biomass as a low-carbon renewable energy source. In Drax’s case, the biomass in question is wood.
A recent survey suggests that British people largely disagree with the government using vast amounts of public money this way.
Disagreement with Drax handout
The Cut Carbon Not Forests (CCNF) coalition commissioned the survey. It is an alliance of UK- and US-based NGOs (non-governmental organisations) that aims to stop subsidies going to tree-burning companies like Drax. Instead, it advocates for the redirection of subsidies to “true clean energy”.
Over the last four decades, Drax has pocketed £6bn in subsidies funded by the public, according to City A.M.. The CCNF coalition pointed out that Drax received £893m in direct subsidies in 2021 alone.
Moreover, the UK government’s immense subsidies for Drax are not the totality of its offering to bioenergy firms. As Energy Live News reported in November 2022:
The UK spent almost £2 billion on subsidising the logging of forests for bioenergy last year.
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The survey results suggested widespread disagreement with bioenergy subsidies to the tune of billions each year on two grounds. 62% of survey respondents opposed the government’s vast handouts to the industry in light of the cost of living crisis. Meanwhile 59% of people disagreed with the subsidies in relation to climate change. This was their view after learning about Drax’s top position as a carbon polluter in the UK.
The survey results also indicate that most people are in the dark about the immense amount of money that transfers from the public purse to bioenergy firms on an annual basis. Learning about the situation left some furious, and others concerned.
Censuswide conducted the survey of around 2,000 people in January.
Bioenergy and forest destruction
Drax insists that it sustainably sources forest wood and regularly denies allegations that suggest otherwise. But multiple exposés have implicated the company in the destruction of important, long-standing forests, such as in North America and Europe.
Matt Williams, Cut Carbon Not Forests campaigner and senior advocate for US nonprofit the Natural Resources Defense Council, said:
Bioenergy companies have been raking it in, at the expense of families facing soaring energy bills, the world’s forests, and the climate. They’ve been allowed to claim that burning trees, instead of coal, is magically zero carbon. It’s clearly not. They’ve ridden off into the sunset, through a landscape littered with tree-stumps, pockets stuffed full of our money.
As Drax’s 2022 earnings show, its pockets are certainly full. Amid the climate and biodiversity crises, however, hundreds of scientists and economists have called on policymakers to ensure critical forest ecosystems remain full and intact, instead of stacking the cash piles of companies implicated in their demise. They wrote an open letter in 2021 calling on world leaders to reject forest-derived bioenergy. It read:
We the undersigned scientists and economists commend each of you for the ambitious goals you have announced… to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050
Forest preservation and restoration should be key tools for achieving this goal and simultaneously helping to address our global biodiversity crisis.
We urge you not to undermine both climate goals and the world’s biodiversity by shifting from burning fossil fuels to burning trees to generate energy.
Since the open letter, Australia has stripped forest biomass of its renewable energy classification. If CCNF’s survey results are anything to go by, it’s clearly the view of the British public that the UK should follow suit.
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