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European lawsuit threatens Drax power plant

March 12, 2019

By Paul Homewood







Plaintiffs from six countries filed a lawsuit last week with the European General Court in Luxembourg, which seeks to annul the forest biomass provisions of the EU’s 2018 Renewable Energy Directive (RED) II.

The case is designed to disqualify forest wood from contributing to the directive’s target that 32% of all energy consumption across the EU should be generated from renewable sources.

The plaintiffs challenge the directive’s criteria for assessing greenhouse gas emissions, which they say fails to count the CO2 coming out the smokestack when wood is burned.

They say that if this is taken into account, biomass plants emit more CO2 per megawatt hour than fossil-fuelled power plants, including coal.

And while equivalent CO2 can be sequestered by regrowth of woodland, replacing the trees that have been harvested can take over a century and will not happen if the land is converted to agricultural uses, according to the suit.

A background note says: “It (the directive) undermines its own purpose of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and in fact will result in increased net CO2 emissions and degradation of forest carbon sinks.”

The note estimates that around half of renewable energy across the EU is generated from biomass-fired plants, like those converted from coal by Drax at its North Yorkshire station, a proportion which it says is expected to grow as a result of the directive.

The plaintiffs are composed of groups representing communities in virgin forest areas of the EU and the US who are concerned about the upsurge in demand for wood fuel as a result of the directive.

The case contends that increased forest cutting will exacerbate greenhouse gas emissions by reducing the capacity of this woodland to absorb and sequester carbon.

Dr Mary Booth, director of the US-based Partnership for Policy Integrity and lead science adviser on the case, said: “The EU’s policy relies on the false and reckless assumption that burning forest wood is carbon neutral.

“However, scientists from around the world, including the EU’s own science advisers, warned that burning forest wood actually increases emissions relative to fossil fuels.”

Sasha Stashwick, senior advocate at the US-based National Resource Defence Council that is backing the court case, urged the UK government to drop its support for Drax.

She said: “The whole business is a house of cards, based on the discredited claim that chopping down trees around the world, shipping them to North Yorkshire, and burning them for electricity is somehow good for the climate.“

“The government has all the information it needs to end this fake green energy fiasco. Hopefully, this legal challenge finally pushes them to do the right thing and end Drax’s subsidies so it can invest the savings in real clean energy like solar and wind at a fraction of the cost.”

Responding to the lodging of the suit on behalf of Biomass UK, Benedict McAleenan said: “Expert authorities around the world agree that we need bioenergy to fight climate change. From the UN’s IPCC 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 its 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.” 

To be clear, the court case, details of which are here, cannot challenge payments of subsidies to Drax which are already contracted. Instead, it challenges the treatment of forest biomass as a renewable fuel in the European Union’s 2018 revised Renewable Energy Directive (known as RED II).

This may therefore affect future subsidy schemes for biomass operations across the EU.

It would also make a dent in the UK’s current calculation for renewable energy, and of course CO2 emissions. Plant biomass currently accounts for 6% of UK electricity generation, about the same as offshore wind.



And it is not only CO2 that is the problem, according to EU Biomass Legal Case, who are coordinating the action. They say that emissions of particulate matter from Drax have quadrupled since they switched from coal to biomass, even though power output has remained fairly constant:




They say that Drax states that the increase in emissions is actually due to its use of “advantaged fuels” – i.e., coal ash, petcoke, and biomass ash, which apparently contains enough carbon after burning the first time that it is worth burning a second time.  Drax does not consistently report its use of these ‘advantaged fuels’ in its annual reports, thus the data in the figure are incomplete. Nonetheless, it is clear that increased biomass use at the plant has not led to a reduction in particulate emissions, but has occurred concurrently with a significant increase.

  1. GeoffB permalink
    March 12, 2019 12:32 pm

    Its a first for me….I AGREE WITH THE GREENS POLICY….Who would of thought it. Wait a minute, did not they originally campaign for biomass?

    • Joe Public permalink
      March 12, 2019 1:03 pm


    • Adrian permalink
      March 12, 2019 5:11 pm

      Ditto, I need to euthanise myself before I start dribbling.

      Oops too late.

  2. March 12, 2019 12:32 pm

    The original idea of biomass was supposed to be that it would use waste wood from existing forestry work i.e. no use for anything else except burning.

    But this isn’t what now happens, so let’s hope the courts see it that way.

    • Harry Passfield permalink
      March 12, 2019 10:26 pm

      I’m struck with the paradox of the fact that burning wood that is millions of years old is worse than burning wood that is hundreds of years old.

  3. Jackington permalink
    March 12, 2019 12:45 pm

    Oh dear! What will Lord Deben make of this? Deny all responsibility no doubt or invent some justification for why the crazy scheme of harvesting tress to burn should continue…

    • It doesn't add up... permalink
      March 12, 2019 12:53 pm

      As a former chairman of the subsidy sucking Forewind consortium he will call for more offshore wind.

    • Geortge Lawson permalink
      March 12, 2019 4:08 pm

      He should be sacked for incompetence and his office closed down. We just cannot afford these costly quangos any longer,

  4. Jackington permalink
    March 12, 2019 12:47 pm

    Oops that is trees to burn not hair!!

  5. It doesn't add up... permalink
    March 12, 2019 1:00 pm

    I imagine this will also hit the coal/biomass fired Maasvlakte power stations that at the Dutch end of the BritNed interconnector. Another 1GW at risk.

  6. spetzer86 permalink
    March 12, 2019 1:12 pm

    You had me at the “EU relies on false and reckless assumptions”. You could just keep adding to the list on that one.

  7. Henry Algeo permalink
    March 12, 2019 1:54 pm

    Can you republish, or at least send me, the piece on the Wind Farm whose construction released more green house gases than it can ever hope to save in its lifetime.Thanks,Henry Algeo

  8. March 12, 2019 2:01 pm
    \\ 4 Mar 2019 · Drax has admitted that its Morehouse Bioenergy plant in Louisiana, which was opened in 2015 and produces about 500,000 tonnes of pellets each year, produces particulate emissions about four times higher than permitted. //
    adds it will take more than 1 year to fix this problem.

    • March 12, 2019 2:05 pm

      Remember limits can be arbitrary
      You can be over a limit and actually doing little harm
      You can be under a limit and actually doing a lot of harm to humans.

      I wondering if any of those particulates actually end up in anyone’s lungs.

      • David Kendrick permalink
        March 12, 2019 2:55 pm

        It’s America, which has the wonderful reputation of having immigrant workers work on in nuclear power plants grinding asbestos fire retardent to a smooth finish without masks.

        it’s Safe Bob !
        How is it safe Jim ?
        Were only required to monitor radiation exposure for employees, subcontractors have to self regulate.

  9. March 12, 2019 2:03 pm

    This just about sums up the stupidity of it:
    ” … chopping down trees around the world, shipping them to North Yorkshire, and burning them for electricity is somehow good for the climate.”

    • March 13, 2019 11:17 am

      Especially when you have Drax Sustainability Director on the Climate Change Committee.

  10. mikewaite permalink
    March 12, 2019 2:13 pm

    In order to understand the conditions under which biomass might be carbon neutral consider a simple model (BTW, I am excluding the burning of domestic waste for energy – a practical and sensible policy).
    The simple model is a water and land planet, devoid of humans, in which the CO2 levels are stable (with seasonal fluctuations) because the natural CO2 sources are balanced by natural sinks, of which woodland is part. Then humans arrive and they cut and burn , say 1km^ of woodland . What does that do to the overall CO2 balance .
    1. There is the CO2 produced by the burning of the wood.
    2. The sq km of woodland CO2 sink which was originally balanced by a source elsewhere no longer exists. So the result is 2 sources of excess CO2, not just one.

    Option A: Now if that sqkm is allowed to regrow it will eventually reach the level of balance as before but the CO2 produced by burning is still in the system , if not in the atmosphere- so there can never again be a balance – the slash and burn episode was never Carbon Neutral.

    Option B: The humans take a previously bare area of land and plant trees , eventually the overall CO2 in the system will fall, and may fall enough to counteract the burning :- Carbon Neutral at last , or even exceed it – Carbon Negative (and a little ice age?)

    Option C: The humans had anticipated this imbalance and had previously found a bare area , seeded it and went away causing a negative CO2 balance until they came back and burnt it – Carbon Neutral. What we are led to believe by Gummer and Perry and others of that ilk is that this is the model for Drax- which means that some 50 – 70 years ago the farmers of S.Carolina started planting bare ground with trees and when asked why by puzzled neighbours replied ” plant it and they (the Limeys) will come”. Unrealistic , so DRAX is not Carbon Neutral.

    Option D: The humans persist in not just one episode of burning , but many times , and many other sq kms . In which case clearly there will never be a return to CO2 balance in the system. – permanent Carbon Positive. This is the DRAX system in operation.

    How could anyone believe that DRAX was Carbon Neutral ?

    • bobn permalink
      March 12, 2019 5:03 pm

      Of course ‘carbon neutral’ is a fictional notion. Earth receives more solar energy (due to orbital changes), oceans warm and release more CO2, plants grow more. Co2 only stays in atmosphere for @max 7 years before being absorbed by water, plants, etc. So there’s never a balance. For billions of years CO2 in atmosphere has edded and flowed and it will continue tio do so – naturally. No problem with burning wood, just diont lie about it being ‘carbon neutral’, it throws more CO2 into the atmosphere and is thus a good thing (if you dont want the forests!!)

  11. Coeur de Lion permalink
    March 12, 2019 2:44 pm

    Does Drax not sit on a coalfield? What contortion will Lord Gummer go through to explain that reverting to coal is better for the environment? Pretty to watch.

    • David Kendrick permalink
      March 12, 2019 2:57 pm

      Even better to see how quickly he drops his share options without collapsing confidence in the plant, every effort must be made to ensure he does another confidence burger and invests every penny he has.

  12. March 12, 2019 2:47 pm

    Nothing more enjoyable than watching the left eat its own. Wish we had the riverine forests Drax devastated on the southeastern coastal plains of the US.

    • David Kendrick permalink
      March 12, 2019 3:02 pm

      It will take several years to process through the legal system and by and large we will not be part of EUtopia by then so the case is pointless still with a power plant due to close because its subsidies stopped, we paid to convert it to wood burning and will have to pay to convert it to something else and at this point it is better to start with a new plant ignoring all but sulphur removal.

  13. MrGrimNasty permalink
    March 12, 2019 3:30 pm

    “No doubt you have realised the splendour of my conception. First a necklace of death about the Earth: 50 power stations, each releasing its deadly particulates over a designated area; each capable of causing 40,000 excess deaths per year. The human race, as you know it, will cease to exist. Then, a rebirth. A new world, under UN global governance.”

    Hugo Drax, with slight artistic license, may or may not be the mastermind behind Drax Power Ltd!

  14. markl permalink
    March 12, 2019 3:40 pm

    It’s about time. Next bird and bat killing windmills and habitat destroying solar panels. Eventually we will close in on energy being the scourge of the earth.

    • Mack permalink
      March 12, 2019 4:18 pm

      Actually, as the article makes clear, the people behind this legal action want to replace biomass with ‘cheaper, greener alternative energy sources’ such as….er, not cheap and not green, bat killing windmills and habitat destroying solar panels. Not the sharpest tools in the box obviously.

  15. George Lawson permalink
    March 12, 2019 3:58 pm

    “The case contends that increased forest cutting will exacerbate greenhouse gas emissions by reducing the capacity of this woodland to absorb and sequester carbon.
    “scientists from around the world, including the EU’s own science advisers, warned that burning forest wood actually increases emissions relative to fossil fuels.”

    Another hugely expensive error by the British Government who have been too keen on following the fatal Green agenda without checking out the accuracy of the science on which they based their erroneous decisions. No more coal powered power station closures please!

    • March 13, 2019 11:21 am

      No chance…

      Claire Perry:

      We play a leading role in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change process, which brings together almost 200 countries to discuss a global approach to tackling climate change. This process led to 195 countries coming together to secure the historic Paris Agreement in 2015, and a common rulebook for its implementation being agreed last year in Poland.

      As part of this process, we have offered to host the next important 2020 summit, COP26, demonstrating our commitment to ambitious international climate action.
      Later this year, the UN Secretary General is convening a Climate Summit in New York. The UK is committed to ensuring it is a success and will be working to bring together key international actors from across the public and private sectors, to drive transformative action on building resilience to climate change.

      • Derek Buxton permalink
        March 13, 2019 3:06 pm

        Perry seems to have been promoted way beyond her ability. She is also I believe in favour of the UN idea of scrapping Capitalism, where does she think her outrageous salary comes from the trees or like Gummer from the jobs she hands out?

      • mikewaite permalink
        March 13, 2019 4:34 pm

        COP26 is going to take place anyway. If it happens here , the delegates will be spending in our posh restaurants, boutiques and bars and there will be more opportunities to mount demonstrations against climate alarmism, carbon taxes ,or display birds mutilated by turbines , etc than if it was in, say, Sydney, Seattle. or Paris.
        And the BBC will not have to spend license fee money on sending 400 “journalists” thousands of miles by Business Class to cover it . They could take the Tube.

  16. jack broughton permalink
    March 12, 2019 4:13 pm

    Wood burning was always a costly green-fiddle. However, at least Drax has not been closed by the green-madmen and could be returned to its design purpose of generating low cost power from coal. Germany is the biggest wood burning country I think, and (in Europe) one of the biggest coal burners: a pragmatic energy policy resulting from their wasted massive spend on renewables???

  17. tom0mason permalink
    March 12, 2019 4:42 pm

    Maybe Drax should be just switched off for the duration until the court comes to a decision.

    Maybe then the watermelon greenies will then appreciate how much electricity the country really consumes and how impractical wind and solar are at fulfilling the need.

    The new tourist slogan “Come to the UK and enjoy the medieval life (batteries not included).

    Maybe this is what the greenies wish us to return to …

    OK kids no school just get back to the mill!

    • MrGrimNasty permalink
      March 12, 2019 6:04 pm

      Another false environmental scare with international conferences – The Great Horse Manure Crisis of 1894!

      “This problem came to a head when in 1894, The Times newspaper predicted… ‘In 50 years, every street in London will be buried under nine feet of manure.’

      The terrible situation was debated in 1898 at the world’s first international urban planning conference in New York, but no solution could be found. It seemed urban civilisation was doomed.”

      The UN has carried on the fine tradition of talking ****!

    • It doesn't add up... permalink
      March 13, 2019 12:29 am

      The experiment of withdrawing electricity supply from civilisation is well advanced in Venezuela. People are queuing at open sewers in pursuit of some water. Food is scarce, shops do not open. People die in hospitals that are unable to use life saving machines. Looting is rampant.

      • mikewaite permalink
        March 13, 2019 12:12 pm

        And yet Maduro’s grip on power is as strong as ever – more so in fact as the people who might depose him are physically weaker, or have emigrated or no longer have the financial resources to campaign against him.
        A foretaste, perhaps, of what might be in store for us when Corbyn takes over in a few weeks time.

  18. wert permalink
    March 12, 2019 5:28 pm

    ‘biomass plants emit more CO2 per megawatt hour than fossil-fuelled power plants, including coal’

    This is not really true, because the number depends heavily on parameters. Do you assume the forest stops growing, or that it grows faster after logging / thinning. It may sound unobvious, but mature forest does not at all bind more carbon, whereas there is an optimal forest which binds the most per year. By keeping the forest in the optimal state it creates renewable energy. And here we talk about a 40 year average or something. It is obvious cutting some wood away may slow down production for some time.

    Let the landowner try to maximize profit for long term, and the result will be pretty much optimal. Greens and citydwellers often have no clue.

    There is an ongoing fight to kill European forest industry development by greens who are against everything while knowing nothing.

    • A C Osborn permalink
      March 13, 2019 11:59 am

      “This is not really true, because the number depends heavily on parameters”
      Rubbish, burning wood instead of Coal requires almost twice as much wood to achieve the same thermal output.
      Wood is dirtier to burn than coal as well.
      Now factor in Cutting down the Forest in the USA, cutting up the wood, creating and drying the wood pellets, storing the pellets in a heated dry environment, shipping them to the coast, shipping them across the Atlantic, shipping them to the Power station.
      All of which is done with FOSSIL FUELS.
      Compare that to the case of DRAX which was deliberately built on top of a Coal Mine with the shortest possible route for the coal to take.

  19. March 12, 2019 6:13 pm

    BBC R4 “Costing the Earth” is back, sounding more green-fascist than ever. Today the target was car tyres, which apparently spew out particulates, some of which enter the beloved marine environment. Maybe they will turn their wailing and finger pointing at biomass burning.

    On tyres the attack is on why economic arguments are allowed to prevail in the non-use of retreads, are they aware that not everybody receives lavish salaries from taxpayers, charity donations and license payers?

    • MrGrimNasty permalink
      March 12, 2019 6:50 pm

      I don’t understand, retreads are cheaper – but it’s not economics, it’s safety.

      Surely it makes no difference anyway – using new tyres rather than retreads just results in more intact tyre to dispose of, the amount of tread converted to rubber dust is the same!

      Did they not mention the unexpected high wear of windmill blades shedding plastic dust into the sea?

      • March 12, 2019 8:06 pm

        I believe that retreads used to be cheaper, hence they used to be popular with car drivers, and roadsides used to be littered with pieces of them when they fell apart, but then to the horror of greenies new car tyres became a lot cheaper (last one I bought cost only £19, including fitting), killing the retread industry for cars (trucking still uses them).

        Old tyres get shipped to India and elsewhere, and greenies can’t sleep at night for worrying about what happens to all that rubber.

      • MrGrimNasty permalink
        March 12, 2019 9:03 pm

        I’d not noticed, bargain basement for my car is £60 a corner for Chinese rubbish, £90+ for anything you’d bet your life on. Even fairly modest cars have tyre sizes/speed ratings that were only used on ‘sports’ cars a few years back. My bicycle tyres cost more than £19 and I have to fit them myself! I would have thought it was more the speed ratings on retreads that would have been the issue. Anyway….. the PM thing is still BS……I actually recall commenting around the time of the diesel ‘scandal’ that soon tyres and brakes would produce more PMs than the engine. And no one seems to worry about the air on the London underground.

  20. John F. Hultquist permalink
    March 12, 2019 8:54 pm

    The entire idea behind DRAX is silly.

    In Washington and Oregon States, there are fifty+ thermal power sources; none of which are of large size.
    A few of the names are instructive:
    – Columbia Ridge Landfill;
    – Sierra Pacific Sawmill;
    – Junction City-Biomethane

    This last is not common in the region, and not without issues, but the idea is to produce electricity via methane through a fermentation process using food scraps and similar refuse.

  21. March 12, 2019 11:50 pm

    OK new tree growth sucks CO2 out of the air
    Couldn’t Drax US forests be cut and put underground near where they are cut ?
    (say in old mines or caverns)
    Meanwhile Drax could burn it’s own Yorkshire coal.
    That way you’d lower pollution, cut out the shipping and trains and thus actually be nearer to CO2 neutral than they are now.

    • dave permalink
      March 13, 2019 7:46 am

      And the stored trees would become coal so that our remote descendants could burn it in a hundred million years while discussing the latest Remoaner wheeze.

  22. Andrew permalink
    March 13, 2019 10:02 am

    I seem to remember that Ed Davey was given a report on the energy from wood scheme. It spelt out why it is nonsense and he kicked it into the long grass. They don’t care about reality, just about appearance.

  23. MrGrimNasty permalink
    March 13, 2019 10:19 am

    More air pollution deaths than previously thought – the giveaway that it is just more BS.

    “The complex study involved computer simulations of interacting natural and man-made chemicals combined with new information about population density, disease risk factors, and causes of death.”

  24. March 13, 2019 1:42 pm

    as an engineer, the conversion of Drax to biomass was the most stupid idea I have ever heard of!

    • jack broughton permalink
      March 13, 2019 7:29 pm

      It was all about “Financial Engineering”; totally unrelated to engineering. The idiots in the UK and EU who developed this cheat-scheme ought to be named and shamed if not prosecuted. They have probably all received knighthoods for their “services”. Corruption in the UK and EU???

      • mikewaite permalink
        March 13, 2019 8:00 pm

        I have it in my mind that I heard the woman running Drax say, on radio, about 2 years ago that it was all about the subsidy money . That if there was a subsidy for burning chicken livers then they would be putting chicken livers into the furnaces.
        However apparently we have it on the highest authority that anyone sceptical of the alarmist position and the Govt’s climate change policies is mentally deranged so perhaps my psychotically denialist brain imagined that interview.

  25. Gamecock permalink
    March 13, 2019 11:12 pm

    I’ve hated Drax ever since he killed Corinne Dufour.

    ‘The plaintiffs are composed of groups representing communities in virgin forest areas of the EU and the US who are concerned about the upsurge in demand for wood fuel as a result of the directive.’

    Americans have no standing.

    If Americans don’t want their forests cut down, they need to take action in America. Once they are cut and shipped, what happens to the products is none of their business.

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