At its opening in September 2018 South Thanet MP Craig Mackinlay, said
I cannot stress enough how important and beneficial this Biomass Plant will be …it will be able to produce power for tens of thousands of homes and deliver CO2 savings of approximately 100,000 tonnes every year.
The owners of the plant, Kent Renewable Energy Ltd (KRE), claimed that it would
produce clean, green electricity to protect the environment by generating power from renewable sources (and that) biomass energy, produces little to no greenhouse gases or other harmful pollutants, so it has minimal impact on the environment, preserving resources for future generations.
The company also promised that the plant would be fuelled by locally sourced, virgin low-grade roundwood logs, sawmill woodchips and clean recycled wood.
All of these grand claims and promises have since turned out to hollow. Yet MP Mackinlay and KRE have made no apologies for what many believe to have been a cynical exercise in greenwashing a facility which is highly unlikely to produce clean energy without also producing damaging emissions
Locally sourced wood?
I have analysed data for 2018-19 and 2019-20 which shows
KRE’s claim that its plant is fuelled by locally sourced, virgin low-grade roundwood logs, sawmill woodchips and clean recycled wood to be untrue.
As the table below shows 25,425 tonnes of logs from Estonia and Latvia were burnt by the biomass planting in this period. By any stretch of the imagination that’s not locally sourced wood.
Depending on where in Estonia or Latvia the logs were harvested, their journey to Discovery Park is between 1,200 – 1,500 miles. The multiple journeys required to shift 24,425 tonnes of logs from these distant countries would generate huge amounts of CO2 compared to locally sourced wood.
Also there is no breakdown of where the 212,678 tonnes of UK sourced logs came from. I think it would be safe to say that only a small percentage were locally sourced.
The same applies to the 142,920 tonnes of waste wood, woodchips and saw mill residue etc, which have no identified place of origin. This means that this category of fuel could, and probably does, include a large volume of overseas grown wood. Once again this raises even more questions about the CO2 emissions related the transportation of these fuel types.
So being generous to KRE, it would be reasonable to say that their biomass plant is mainly fuelled by non-locally sourced wood.
Zero carbon energy?
KRE claims that biomass energy, produces little to no
greenhouse gases or other harmful pollutants
Yet for many years eminent scientists have criticised this claim as misleading and untruthful. According to one estimate
Overall, for each kilowatt hour of heat or electricity produced, using wood initially is likely to add two to three times as much carbon to the air as using fossil fuels.
So why would KRE persist in claiming that wood fuelled biomass energy production produced little or no greenhouse gasses in the face of strong evidence to the contrary?
The answer lies in the complex regulations which govern the wood biomass industry. These regulations allow the industry to offset the huge volumes of CO2 released into the atmosphere by burning wood, against the planting of new trees which, in theory, will absorb the CO2 produced by the burning.
So despite the fact that KRE’s burning of wood to generate heat and power, does actually generate large and dangerous CO2 emissions, the rules allow the company to make the mind bending claim that it doesn’t.
Thankfully over 400 eminent scientists from across the world came together in 2021 to debunk the misleading, smoke and mirror style regulation of the wood biomass energy industry. In a joint Letter Regarding Use of Forests for Bioenergy which was sent to world leaders, the scientists argued that
For decades, producers of paper and timber products have generated electricity and heat as by products from their process wastes. This use does not lead to the additional harvest of wood. In recent years, however, there has been a misguided move to cut down whole trees or to divert large portions of stem wood for bioenergy, releasing carbon that would otherwise stay locked up in forests
The result of this additional wood harvest is a large initial increase in carbon emissions, creating a “carbon debt,” which increases over time as more trees are harvested for continuing bioenergy use. Regrowing trees and displacement of fossil fuels may eventually pay off this carbon debt, but regrowth takes time the world does not have to solve climate change. As
numerous studies have shown, this burning of wood will increase warming for decades to centuries. That is true even when the wood replaces coal, oil or natural gas.
The scientists’ arguments were based upon extensive research
which was, and still is, taking place across the world and which is raising more and more important questions about the sustainability, renewability and environmental safety of using wood biomass as a replacement for coal, oil and gas in the production of heat and energy.
Questions such as the rate of world deforestation being much greater than the rate of reforestation are now being studied in relation to CO2 absorption, as are the astronomic levels of CO2 produced by the international wood extraction industry in the harvesting and transportation of woody biomass across the world, and the consequential ecological devastation that these activities cause.
The burning of wood for whatever purpose is known to be a significant producer of air pollution particularly deadly PM10 and PM2.5 particulates which according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) can cause “stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, and both chronic and acute respiratory diseases, including asthma”. The WHO estimated that in 2019 air pollution cause at least 7million premature death throughout the world.
Yet as the dangers associated with wood biomass energy production become more widely known about and better understood, the wood biomass industry has doubled down upon its increasingly discredited claims that it is, overall, a clean industry which produces energy with negligible greenhouse gas and pollutant emissions.
Why so foolish? Just follow the money,
The production of renewable energy from wood biomass attracts, like some other forms of renewable energy, subsidies to the producer.
In the case of KRE it’s accounts for 2018-19 and 2019-20 records total government subsidies of £32,936,110! KRE’s accounts for 2020-21 have not yet been published but assuming it receives a modest £15million subsidy then, over a period of two and half years (production did not begin until September 2018), KRE would have trousered a staggering £45million in tax payer funded subsidies – the equivalent of £1.6millon per month.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not opposed to government subsidies, especially subsidies for energy which is genuinely clean, sustainable, and renewable. But as compelling evidence emerges that wood biomass energy production is not as clean, or sustainable as producers like Drax or KRE would have us believe, then I believe that it is time to withdraw their tax payer subsidies.
A less charitable person than I, might even believe that the misleading, perhaps even deceitful, statements made about their biomass operations by companies such as KRE and Drax , serve to greenwash their activities so as to retain their subsidies, whilst knowingly contributing to global warming and air pollution.
Me? Well I agree with the hundreds of scientists who together wrote to world leaders that
Trees are more valuable alive than dead both for climate and for biodiversity. To meet future net zero emission goals, your governments should work to preserve and restore forests and not to burn them
I will be going to this demonstration on 21 October. Hope to see you there.