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Kwasi Kwarteng says bringing wood pellets across world isn’t sustainable in contradiction of policy

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Kwasi Kwarteng says bringing wood pellets halfway across world to burn them in Yorkshire isn’t sustainable in contradiction of Tory policy

  • Biomass is classed as ‘renewable’ because the trees used are replaced
  • This is controversial because Drax power plant is the UK’s biggest CO2 emitter
  • The UK taxpayer subsidises the plant to the tune of about £839million a year

Leaked recordings reveal Energy Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng thinks importing US-made wood pellets to be burnt by power company Drax ‘doesn’t make sense’ – apparently contradicting the Government’s official line.

Biomass – burning organic matter such as the wood pellets to make energy – is classed as ‘renewable’ because the trees used are replaced.

However, this is controversial because the Drax power plant in Yorkshire is the UK’s biggest emitter of CO2 – and the replacement trees can take 100 years to grow.

The UK taxpayer subsidises the plant to the tune of about £839million a year.

Mr Kwarteng, seemingly contradicting the official line on biomass, said: ‘There’s no point getting [wood pellets] from Louisiana… that isn’t sustainable.’

He added that shipping pellets sourced by Drax in the US has ‘a huge cost financially and environmentally… [it] doesn’t make any sense to me at all’.

Leaked recordings reveal Energy Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng thinks importing US-made wood pellets to be burnt by power company Drax ‘doesn’t make sense’

Drax plc’s share price was 5 per cent lower at 4pm yesterday after falling 10 per cent in early trading on the London Stock Exchange following Mr Kwarteng’s comments in a conversation with MPs held on video app Teams.

Government subsidies to the plant will expire in 2027, but Drax is seeking new public funds to pay for ‘carbon capture’ technology which will suck up the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide for storage, so it cannot add to global warming.

While Drax claims its wood pellets are responsibly sourced and are ‘net zero’, critics point out trees can take hundreds of years to grow and that cutting them down and shipping them thousands of miles to the UK is damaging to the environment.

Energy used in making the pellets and shipping them to Drax creates around 1.5million tonnes of CO2 each year.

Mr Kwarteng also told MPs that biomass had not advanced as rapidly as other energy forms such as wind power. He added: ‘I can well see a point where we just draw the line and say [biomass] isn’t working, this doesn’t help carbon emission reduction and so we should end it.

‘All I’m saying is that we haven’t quite reached that point yet.’

Biomass – burning organic matter such as the wood pellets to make energy – is classed as ‘renewable’ because the trees used are replaced (stock image)

Biomass – burning organic matter such as the wood pellets to make energy – is classed as ‘renewable’ because the trees used are replaced (stock image)

Almuth Ernsting, co-director of Biofuelwatch, said: ‘We are pleased that Kwasi Kwarteng is starting to acknowledge what hundreds of scientists have been saying for a long time: burning trees for energy accelerates climate change rather than slowing it down.

‘It also harms biodiversity, and harms communities affected by air pollution.

‘The Government focus support on energy savings and clean, non-emissive renewables like wind and solar power, which are also cheaper than biomass electricity.’

A Drax spokesman said that the company ‘is one of Europe’s lowest carbon intensity power generators and our sustainable biomass is critical to UK energy security, supplying enough reliable renewable electricity to keep the lights on for four million households’.

However, this is controversial because the Drax power plant in Yorkshire is the UK’s biggest emitter of CO2 – and the replacement trees can take 100 years to grow

However, this is controversial because the Drax power plant in Yorkshire is the UK’s biggest emitter of CO2 – and the replacement trees can take 100 years to grow

A Government spokesman said: ‘The Energy Secretary has always been clear biomass has a key role to play in boosting Britain’s energy security, having supplied enough reliable renewable electricity to keep the lights on for 4million households.’

The spokesman said biomass can displace fossil fuels by generating dispatchable renewable electricity – production that can be easily switched on and off – and with carbon storage, can permanently remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

‘No other technology can do both. The UK Government only supports biomass which complies with our strict sustainability,’ the spokesman added.

‘The UK Government only supports biomass which complies with our strict sustainability criteria’.

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