This Saturday there will be a key protest in London to bring attention to the destructive nature of subsidies for bioenergy. The protest coincides with a DECC public consultation on Renewable Obligation Certificates (ROCs) which are government subsidies for renewable electricity. Instead of rewarding true renewable energy, such as sustainable wind and solar power, a large share of ROCs goes to biomass (wood) and biofuel (mostly palm oil) power stations. These are paid for by consumers through a surcharge on fuel bills. At a time when health, education, social welfare and environmental programmes are being cut drastically, the government is planning to reward biomass and biofuel power stations with £3 billion a year.
Biomass and biofuel production causes deforestation and adversely affects the climate, food sovereignty and human rights. Nearly all of the biomass and biofuels burned in UK power stations will be imported from countries including Indonesia, Brazil, Ghana or Kenya. Burning biomass and biofuel causes air pollution resulting in health problems for those who live nearby. It also creates 50% more carbon emissions than burning coal and is highly inefficient.
One of the key challenges with electricity power generation is not just to do with transmission losses from centralised power plants but the gross inefficiency of electricity production from biomass itself; 30% conversion efficiency, so 70% losses. Combined Heat and Power would raise efficiencies considerably but this requires completely new infrastructure and so far in the UK there are no policy plans for serious investment and retro-fitting is almost impossible.
Looking at Forth Energy’s proposals for 540MW of bioenergy power in Scotland, this will be met by 4 large power stations. If 540 MW were to be produced through biomass energy it would require the conversion of 80% of Scotland’s arable land to fast-growing biomass in order to meet this demand for wood alone.
However there is a case for small-scale biomass energy on a local level for heating purposes but it could only supply very limited volumes. Any more and you’re into short-rotation coppicing and industrial forestry, both with biologically inert monocultures dependent on regular aerial herbicide and pesticide applications.
Bioenergy companies sometimes promote sawdust and mill end residues, but these are already utilised for chipboard and other low grade wood products and companies depending on them are challenging the incentives which are diverting this resource into power generation. The construction timber salvage business is equally hard hit and some experts see it virtually shutting down across the UK if bioenergy incentives are not repealed.
But the main concern for campaigners is the environmental damage wreaked overseas. In August 2010 the energy company, W4B, was granted planning permission for a new biomass powerstation in Bristol. The government overrode the rejection of the power station by the city council on the grounds that “indirect impact” i..e deforestation, land grabs and human rights abuses, including murder, were not considered material evidence.
As a result of this ruling there are now over 40 power stations with planning applications in the pipeline around the coastline of the UK, in preparation for shipments of vegetable oil and forest timber (chips and pellets) from areas which include of biodiverse forest in the Amazon and the Congo.
Corporations like Drax, one of Europe's biggest climate change contributors, are lobbying DECC to increase subsdidies for producing bioenergy. This protest aims to show DECC that the public is incensed by the negative impacts of this policy.
If UK citizens tell DECC Yes to true renewable power from wind, wave, tidal, solar and geothermal and No to bioenergy we can stop this destructive industry overnight.
Where: DECC – Department of Energy & Climate Change, 3 Whitehall Place, SW1A 2AW. Nearest tube stations, Embankment & Charing Cross.
When: Saturday 22nd October, 12.00 noon
Who is the protest for? – for anyone concerned about environment and social justice.
Supported by Campaign Against Climate Change.
Bring a friend, your banners and placards to the Department of Environment & Climate Change on the 22nd. There will be a 'green' drinks afterwards to help with campaign building and exchanging stories, tips and tactics.
Photo: biofuels action at The Mall (protesters dressed as orangutans); of landgrab in Papua New Guinea (Greenpeace): palm oil monoculture; poster from Biofuelwatch article on use of biofuels by the aviation industry