Government faces legal challenge over support for biomass projects such as Drax

The Government is facing a legal challenge over whether its plans to continue burning biomass undermines the UK’s ability to reach Net Zero by 2050.

On Friday, the Lifescape Project rewilding charity, backed by the Partnership for Policy Integrity, filed an application for a judicial review over the Government’s Biomass Strategy with the High Court.

It alleged that the policies, a key part of the plans to get towards Net Zero, are unlawful and will undermine the country’s ability to hit its climate targets.

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This is due to concerns over whether the harvesting of trees is sustainable, as well as doubts over the green credentials of the proposed technologies that are meant to make the energy source more eco-friendly.

Drax Power Station near Selby, North Yorkshire.Drax Power Station near Selby, North Yorkshire.
Drax Power Station near Selby, North Yorkshire.

The Biomass Strategy stated that the future of the energy source, which involves burning pellets made from wood, must involve carbon capture technology where the emissions are caught and stored below ground.

The process of Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) is argued to be not only carbon-neutral but even carbon-negative as burning the fuel would see the carbon released into the atmosphere also absorbed by newly-planted trees.

The questions raised over the Government’s Net Zero commitments comes after Claire Coutihno, the Energy Secretary, defended plans to press ahead for the yearly awarding of new oil and gas licences.

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She told the House of Commons on Thursday: “(For) our ambitions on net zero and for energy security, it is critical we make the most of our home-grown advantages.”

“The skills of those working on oil and gas rigs today are the same skills that we will need for the offshore wind jobs of tomorrow,” she added.

Drax, a major Yorkshire employer, is one of the companies set to benefit from the Government’s continued commitment to biomass as part of the Government’s Net Zero plans.

The company’s North Yorkshire biomass power plant is set to use BECCS technology if it receives the desired level of backing from the Government.

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Drax has received billions in green energy subsidies from the Government in recent years, but has recently come under scrutiny over allegations that its supply of pellets is not sustainable and comes from healthy trees in protected forests in North America, something the company denies.

This judicial review comes after Enviva, the world’s largest supply of wood pellets said there was “substantial doubt” over its ability to continue, once again raising questions over the viability of biomass as a long-term energy source, with Drax getting around 15 per cent of its pellets through Enviva.

The National Audit Office (NAO) is currently working on a report into the Government’s support for biomass. The work, scheduled to be published this winter, is set to cover many of the same questions raised in last week’s high court challenge.

Elsie Blackshaw-Crosby, managing lawyer at The Lifescape Project, said: “Despite an abundance of evidence that logging forests for fuel is increasing climate pollution and destroying irreplaceable ecosystems, the government’s Biomass Strategy supports continued use of imported wood fuels and takes the false solution of biomass even further, relying extensively on BECCS to produce ‘negative emissions’.

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“Not only will it cost billions of taxpayers’ money but it will not even help achieve net zero.

“This case calls on the government to assess and reflect the actual climate impacts of biomass and BECCS in their climate policy, a move that will force them to look at other renewable energy solutions.”

A Department for Energy Security and Net Zero spokesperson said: “We cannot comment on ongoing legal proceedings.”