The import of wood pellets, in millions of tonnes, from the USA to North East ports since 2016, their transport and combustion in power stations like Drax to produce 12% of the ‘sustainable’, renewable energy of the UK is now an accepted fact. The attempt to source UK ‘farmed’ biomass in the same decade, to fulfil a UK government energy policy, had already clearly failed. The evidence comes from a purpose built Biomass power station, whose £300 million installation, ceased on the North bank of the Blyth, when subsidies were withdrawn from the company who built it, in tandem with the withdrawal of farming subsidies to those who would grow fast growing willow and poplar trees in order to feed the furnaces therein. The idea that Kielder forest could produce wood pellets is not new, but the processing would be very expensive, because of the energy required to process wood down to a pellet form with 12% water content, which would have to come from more expensive fossil fuels in the UK, compared to cheaper natural gas in the Southern States of the USA.
The government energy policy is a necessary perspective required to form policy. However, the idea that Biomass imports are ‘sustainable forms of energy’ is undermined by the amount of greenhouse gas produced and fossil fuels burned in their production and importation. The irony of the situation that this country finds itself in is that, if coal were mined next to Drax and combusted therein, kg for kg, the carbon dioxide emissions from ‘sustainable, ’American wood, would be significantly higher. Coal is not the answer, a combination of approaches, to create a more rational policy, that includes the removal of carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere, certainly is. A pilot project at Drax based on this principle is a significant step in the direction that government policy is now funding, through tax payer subsidy.