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Wood-pellet fuel emits more carbon than coal’: U.S. watchdog to probe shock claims on power giant Drax’s ‘green’ supplier Read more

March 13, 2016

By Paul Homewood


h/t Dave Ward




From the Mail:


Britain’s biggest power station has been plunged into crisis by a bombshell complaint to America’s financial regulator over its biggest supplier of ‘green’ fuel.

The complaint alleges that the supplier to the Drax plant in North Yorkshire, US group Enviva, used a loophole in EU and UK law to falsely claim to American investors that its wood-pellet fuel emits far less carbon dioxide than coal.

It also attacks Enviva’s claims that its operations are ‘certified’ for ‘sustainability’. In fact, the UK body responsible for such certification – chaired by Dorothy Thompson, who is also chief executive of Drax – is still auditing Enviva.

Complaint: The supplier to the Drax plant in North Yorkshire, has been accused of using a loophole in EU and UK law to falsely claim to American investors that its wood-pellet fuel emits far less carbon dioxide than coal


Complaint: The supplier to the Drax plant in North Yorkshire, has been accused of using a loophole in EU and UK law to falsely claim to American investors that its wood-pellet fuel emits far less carbon dioxide than coal


The power station is already reeling from a profits slump after green subsidies were cut by Chancellor George Osborne last year and growing questions over its strategy of burning ‘environmentally friendly’ wood pellets.

The complaint, signed by the managers of 34 US pension and investment funds, targets Enviva, a Maryland-based firm that has a contract to supply Drax with one million tons of pellets every year.

It will be filed tomorrow with the powerful federal watchdog, the Securities and Exchange Commission, along with a report by environmental think-tank the Partnership for Policy Integrity (PFPI).

The report says it has found ‘misleading statements by Enviva about its emissions and environmental impacts’ in its prospectus when it was floated on the New York stock exchange last April.

The report says Enviva has claimed that ‘burning wood in power plants reduces carbon emissions compared to coal’. But the study says Drax’s own data shows that while burning coal leads to emissions of 1,901lb of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour (Mwh), the figure for wood is significantly higher – 2,128lb per Mwh.

Enviva’s claim is only possible because of a UK and EU ‘policy loophole’ – which does not apply in America – classing biomass fuel such as wood pellets as ‘zero carbon’.

According to the study, Enviva has not made this clear. Its claim to the SEC that using its pellets ‘reduces’ emissions only applies to making and shipping the pellets, not burning them.


The complaint calls on the SEC to launch an investigation to ‘establish and enforce clear guidelines applicable to companies that may be claiming climate benefits’.

Drax produces eight per cent of the UK’s electricity – enough to power six million homes. Half of its six 650 megawatt (MW) generators have been converted from coal to burn wood pellets from America. Drax spokesman Andrew Brown yesterday confirmed the firm wants to adapt its remaining three furnaces.

Under EU rules, burning wood counts as ‘zero carbon’ because wood cut to make pellets will one day grow back and reabsorb the CO2 emitted from Drax’s chimneys.

This means it qualifies as renewable energy – attracting subsidies for Drax that currently run to about £350 million a year. Brown admitted that without the subsidies, Drax’s business would collapse.

In 2015, its net profit was £56 million, a 56 per cent fall on the previous year. Its shares have plummeted over the past two years to 269p from a high of 820p in 2014.

The report also says that Enviva claims its operations are ‘certified’ for ‘sustainability.’ Following rules introduced by the Department of Energy and Climate Change in December, Enviva is only now being audited by the Sustainability Biomass Partnership (SBP), chaired by Drax chief executive Dorothy Thompson.

An SBP spokeswoman insisted its evaluation of Enviva would be ‘robust and independent’. But she agreed that if Enviva did not get SBP approval it would be devastating to the firm and Drax.

The report also claims Enviva has ‘misled’ investors over the fact that a high proportion of its hardwood pellets come not from ‘sawmill residue’ and ‘waste’ but whole tree trunks – as witnessed by The Mail on Sunday during a visit to its plant in North Carolina two years ago.

Steven Heim, of Boston Common Asset Management, one of the complainants, said yesterday: ‘I hope the SEC examines this very closely.

There is no such thing as green carbon dioxide and Drax is still emitting it. Wood pellet power makes no sense from a climate or environmental perspective.’

Drax’s Brown said he could not comment on the report or complaint, saying only that under EU rules, Drax’s biomass emissions showed an 86 per cent reduction on coal. Enviva spokesman Kent Jenkins denied the firm’s SEC filings were misleading, adding: ‘Enviva produces wood pellets using sustainable practices that protect US forests.’



I am sure we can all have the greatest confidence that Drax’s Dorothy Thompson will carry out a fully impartial audit of Enviva!


Meanwhile Geoffrey Lean , writing in the failed Independent is worried that shale gas can create even more pollution than coal. Given that the report he highlights is written by a former  director of the EPA, I would suggest we view the results with caution.

But at least right at the bottom of his piece he writes:


However, expert allegations that fracking maybe responsible for a surprise 30 per cent increase in methane over the United States in the last decade are challenged by new research, published in the journal Science, suggesting that it may instead be due to agriculture especially dairy farming. 


Lean also appears concerned about the industrial renaissance which has resulted from cheap energy:


The report – “Greenhouse Gases from a Growing Petrochemical  Industry” – adds that the cheapness of shale gas is encouraging other energy-intensive industries to expand. Seven new fertiliser industry projects are scheduled to emit another 15.8 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, and seven new chemical plants would add another 17.6 million tons.


He obviously yearns for the good old days when energy was expensive and these sort of industries moved to China and elsewhere.

  1. March 13, 2016 1:28 pm

    Does that include the Co2 emitted when the wood Is pulverised, turned into pellets and then shipped across the Atlantic?

    • March 13, 2016 1:43 pm

      It sounds as if it does not.

      Even DECC have admitted in the past that burning wood emits more CO2 than coal, simply because it is less efficient from an energy point of view.

    • ScottyMorePower permalink
      March 13, 2016 8:26 pm

      The phrasing is not clear, but it sounds as if someone has calculated the manufacturing and shipping carbon emissions. They then are comparing that to the total coal emissions, while ignoring the legally defined “zero emission” wood. All those numbers really should have been listed. I do consider it fair to consider wood as being zero emission, but they should list how much new carbon is being emitted from fossil fuels (or are they using wood-burning devices during manufacture and shipping?).

      • J Martin permalink
        March 13, 2016 8:50 pm

        Excellent idea. I think that they should be required to ship the pellets in ships that burn wood pellets to provide propulsion.

    • March 14, 2016 12:35 pm

      It does. Ofgem provides a biomass emissions calculator which lets you work out the incidental carbon costs from cutting the wood, carrying to the pellet planet, drying it, pelleting it, carrying it to the seaport, marine transport emissions, and finally transport to the power station. A ctual up the chimney emissions for pellets areabout 1% more than for coal so the difference presumably includes these figures.

      The controversial stuff is about how much of the biomass grows back. If you harvest more frequently then the average amoutb of carbon sequestered is less than the amount you started with, a debt that is never repaid. Anyway it will take 50 years before the wood grows back so if climate change is urgent (which on this site we do not think it is, of course) then biomass is mad. People fuss about the Florida hardwood forests, but Enviva has manging to deflect criticism of its practices so far.

  2. March 13, 2016 2:07 pm

    “The report – “Greenhouse Gases from a Growing Petrochemical Industry” – adds that the cheapness of shale gas is encouraging other energy-intensive industries to expand.”

    Jevon’s paradox—generally ignored by the environmentalists as being nonsense. Guess it’s not such nonsense after all.

  3. Bloke down the pub permalink
    March 13, 2016 2:43 pm

    The furnaces at Drax have been converted to be able to burn wood pellets. Is anyone in a position to be able to say whether these furnaces are still able to burn coal if desired?

    • It doesn't add up... permalink
      March 13, 2016 3:55 pm

      They would need to be converted back again.

  4. John F. Hultquist permalink
    March 13, 2016 3:28 pm

    An audit ought not to be just of Enviva’s statements and practices. The entire green energy policies have produced something of a “Heath Robinson contraption” [U. S. phrase is Rube Goldberg machine].

    I suggest asking the school system to nominate 3 each of teachers of chemistry, physics, economics, math, and geography. These folks usually have earned respect in their community. Actually, students in these subjects could do the job. One doesn’t have to have the training of Peter Higgs to figure out what a crock this is.

  5. March 13, 2016 4:12 pm

    This situation is typical of the obfuscation which surrounds the so called environmental lobby. My son is 42, a BA and MA (OK it is in History of Art) vegan who lives together with his wife and two year old daughter in a yurt. For the uninitiated that is a tent and no he has no planning permission – living “off the grid” is apparently a virtue. He and I had a furious argument over his assertion that “97% scientists etc”
    My daughter is a physics graduate and teaches science in a secondary school. She, like many of her colleagues, cannot reconcile basic science tenets with the rubbish they are obliged to peddle to their students courtesy of the GCSE and A level syllabi.
    Worse still it is being spoon fed to primary students as we witnessed at an environmental assembly held at the school her daughter attends.
    If our babies are being brainwashed what hope is there?

    • spetzer86 permalink
      March 13, 2016 4:24 pm

      It may not help, but your observation is not unique. Western Education is under attack and few know what is being done to our children in the name of 21st century learning. This site offers a lot of information and the history of this challenge.

    • March 13, 2016 5:00 pm

      It’s not just a matter of brainwashing. Adults don’t want to be adults anymore so they make laziness and ignorance virtues in their minds. It has been going on for a long time—I have a brother that lives in his car, his six kids have kids and no jobs and were living in one house that the ex-wife’s parents gave them. Parents have contributed often by coddling kids, but not always. It’s just that achieving nothing has become the new way to live—except they really just mooch off society, living off everyone else’s work like parasites. However, I don’t think it’s brainwashing so much as people just don’t want to be bothered to grow up—the Peter Pan syndrome run wild. There is no thought in any of this, of course. In a way, it’s a return to the sixties and the dropped out, drugged up culture from that time. Even race riots are returning to the US. Let’s face it—calling failure success is just so very appealing and few will actually even call failure failure anymore. It’s not just schools, it’s all of society. Are we doomed? We came out of the sixties and recovered for a while. Could happen again, maybe not. People are what they are and failure is generally quite appealing to the masses.

  6. March 13, 2016 4:19 pm

    So far, all the semiacceptable complaints about green energy are detail or project specific. Drax is questionable, biomass in general is not. Like Gore: the sealevel rise of 6m may be too much, but he isn’t. This split isn’t getting better.

    I am more alarmed each day, fearful even. The shrillness increases as the disconnect between green rhetoric and environmental observation grows. The calls to have septics – these blogs – declared criminals is mainstream politics and doesn’t rate an eyebrow in the media. We are the witches of 1495. History looks to me to be on the verge of repeating itself. Enlightenment is a very narrow thing.

    • March 13, 2016 5:02 pm

      Agreed: Enlightenment is a very narrow thing and always has been. Living in the cold and dark, both physically and mentally, seem to be the human condition throughout most of history.

  7. Graeme No.3 permalink
    March 13, 2016 4:20 pm

    The wood chips are prone to spontaneous combustion, which is why there are special shipping, transport and storage requirements. To guard against such combustion the piles are sprayed with water and it is only human not to spare that precaution. Who wants a 20,000 ton fire?
    The result is less efficient combustion, meaning more emissions for a set amount of electricity. The same problem occurs with lignite/brown coal hence higher emissions than with black coal. (Australia black coal 960 v brown coal at 1290). With coal more modern plants running at higher temperatures and efficiency can reduce black coal emissions close to 700 kg. CO2 per MWh, and brown coal that has been ‘pre-dried’ by waste heat to around 800.
    Such improvements aren’t possible with chip fuel rather than powder as with coal. Hence the higher emissions are inherent, even before those involved in harvesting, chipping, transport etc.

  8. March 13, 2016 4:53 pm

    ‘There is no such thing as green carbon dioxide’

    That will be news to the world’s vegetation which would be dead without it.

    • March 13, 2016 5:04 pm

      Carbon dioxide is colorless—both physically and in global warming theory. While the theory itself says only fossil fuels are causing warming, politics says ALL CO2 causes warming, no matter what the source. So claiming CO2 can be “green” is ridiculous when it comes to what happens in the real world.

      • John F. Hultquist permalink
        March 13, 2016 7:02 pm

        In the U. S. there will be green beer flowing on Thursday — something about an Irish person.

  9. J Martin permalink
    March 13, 2016 9:01 pm

    The first US broadside against Drax, I imagine other organisations will be readying complaints against the rape of the North American forests. Will Drax find their position unsustainable ?

  10. March 13, 2016 10:06 pm

    Reblogged this on The Arts Mechanical and commented:
    But wood is RENEWABLE!!! Actually anybody who knows much about engineering could see the obvious behind the huge charade. Apparently nobody confided the facts to the British government and ratepayers.

    • catweazle666 permalink
      March 13, 2016 11:26 pm

      “Apparently nobody confided the facts to the British government and ratepayers.”

      Given that the British end of the wood chip importation business is handled by none other than ex-jailbird Chris Huhne, that is hardly surprising.

      • March 14, 2016 10:54 am

        Ah, prisoner Huhne, I wondered where he had got to these days.

  11. March 14, 2016 10:19 am

    Thompson is no longer CEO of SBP (Sustainable Biomass Partnership) who are auditing Enviva. She was replaced mid-January.

    • March 14, 2016 10:55 am

      If that’s correct then that can only be a good thing.

  12. roger permalink
    March 17, 2016 4:35 am

    I suppose the increased methane in the US mentioned could be the result of wetland recovery activities.

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