Wood from British Columbia’s old-growth forests has been used to power the UK’s largest power plant, according to a bbc investigation. The company that runs it, which denies the allegations, has received more than $9 billion in green energy grants from the British government.
These accusations are worrying for mike morristhe Prince George-Mackenzie Provincial Representative in central BC, near where the company operates.
“It’s troubling to me that another country is taking old-growth forests from our country and saying they have a green electrical system in that country and it’s sustainable,” Morris told CTVNews.ca. “In British Columbia, I’m seeing old-growth forests disappear.”
The company, the Drax Group, purchased two lots of timber in BC in 2021, which were later felled by contractors. BBC investigators said they analyzed satellite imagery, logging licenses and drone footage, and even followed a truck delivering logs to a Drax facility in British Columbia. The company has denied cutting down Canadian forests to create the wood pellets it uses to power its massive “sustainable bioenergy.” power plant in the north of england.
“These logging licenses have been transferred to other companies that take the high-value timber from the sites for use in sawmills,” a Drax spokesperson told CTVNews.ca. “Eighty percent of the material we use in our pellets is sawmill waste; the rest is low-quality lumber that would otherwise be burned or thrown away.”
‘We take the residue that remains’
Located near its namesake village in the county of Yorkshire in England, the coal-fired Drax Power Station opened in 1974. By 2018, it had largely been converted to burning biomass, such as the millions of tonnes of wood pellets that he now imports each year from the US and Canada.
Drax is the UK’s largest power plant by output, producing 12 per cent of the country’s “renewable” electricity. Media reports say the company has received £6 billion (approximately C$9.3 billion) in British taxpayer money through green energy subsidies, including £893 million (or nearly C$1.4 billion). Canadian dollars) in 2021 alone. Drax’s operations are considered renewable because it largely uses industry by-products like sawdust to make pellets, and new trees are planted to offset what is burned.
by drax annual report 2021 highlights its presence in Canada: seven wood pellet plants in BC and two in Alberta, which “operate in regions that include old-growth forests” and ship through ports in Vancouver and Prince Rupert. Drax’s Canadian facilities produced 1.8 million tonnes of biomass in 2021, mostly from “sawmills and other wood industry residues” but also about 182,000 tonnes of “low-quality roundwood.” In 2021, 15 percent of the biomass used in the UK’s Drax Power Station came from Canada.
“Drax does not harvest forests and forests are not harvested for biomass,” a company spokesperson told CTVNews.ca. “They are harvested for high-value lumber used for construction. We take the residue that is left.”
The BBC investigation included a 30 minute documentary. Before it aired on Monday, Drax posted a statement online criticizing the BBC’s coverage for focusing “mainly on the views of a vocal minority who oppose biomass”.
“The people who live in and around these forests are best placed to determine how they should look after themselves, not the BBC.” the declaration read. “Our lawyers have written to the BBC to remind them of their legal and regulatory obligations and we are considering taking further action.”
Drax shares fell during trading on Tuesday, according to Bloomberg.
‘A large inventory of whole logs in your yard’
Morris, the Prince George-Mackenzie provincial representative, has seen Drax’s pellet plants firsthand.
“I’m familiar with the Drax plant, just south of Prince George,” Morris told CTVNews.ca on Monday. “As a matter of fact, I stopped by just a couple of days ago. They have a huge inventory of whole logs in their yard.”
Michelle Connolly, director of the North Conservation environmental group, visited a suspected Drax registration site with the BBC. Speaking to CTVNews.ca, he described it as a “death zone” that once included “primal forests” that “have never been industrialized.”
“Our biggest concern is that our government is allowing this,” Connolly told CTVNews.ca from Prince George. “In an era of climate change, the best thing we could be doing for the climate is not turning these forests into energy; we actually need to protect natural forests.”
CTVNews.ca contacted the BC Ministry of Forestry, which oversees and regulates the province’s forestry industry. A spokesman said they are following up with Drax to ensure quality logs are not used to make wood pellets, most of which is then exported.
“It would not make any economic sense for a pellet company to use quality logs to produce pellets,” the ministry spokesperson added. “Over 90 percent of the industry’s inputs come from sawdust and shavings, chips and crop residues. It’s better to turn waste into bioenergy that displaces fossil fuels globally than to burn it in batteries.” open or leave them on the ground, which increases the risk of forest fires.
Forest fires have devastated BC in recent years, scorching an annual average of almost 350,000 hectares of the province between 2010 and 2020. Researchers say climate change is compounding the loss of BC’s old-growth foreststhat are already threatened by logging.
‘Reliable renewable energy’
Drax describes biomass such as wood pellets as “reliable renewable energy… displacing fossil fuels like coal from power systems, supporting climate goals.”
professor at the University of British Columbia gary bull agrees, saying that while it may not be particularly familiar in Canada, biomass is used throughout Central Europe and Scandinavia to generate power and heat large cities like Copenhagen and Stockholm.
“You certainly see it as renewable energy,” Bull, who is part of the university’s Forest Resources Department, told CTVNews.ca. “You also see that it’s a very sensible thing to do when you can’t do anything else with fiber, in terms of a product.”
Bull recently participated in a study by the Canadian Wood Pellet Association, which tracked truckloads of material used to make pellets. He says 85 percent was mill waste like sawdust and bark chips, while 15 percent was “forestry residue” like “low-quality” lumber.
“If there’s old growth going in (pellets) or old trees that shouldn’t go in, it would be less than one percent,” Bull suggested. “Every once in a while there’s a log left in the scrap pile that, under the right economic circumstances, could have gone to the sawmill.”
But for Morris and activists like Connolly, there is no such thing as low-value forest products.
“What they don’t take into account is that there is more value to a forest, particularly its primary forest, than just the fiber itself,” Morris said.
“Renewable presumably means something that will come back,” Connolly said. “Trees may be renewable, but forests are not.”