Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
Most people’s image of renewable energy is a wind turbine or solar panel. Few are aware that the government’s ‘renewable energy’ vision consists in large part of burning carbon-based fuel in power stations. In 2011, 77 per cent of all renewable energy ‘inputs’ came from burning biomass and according to the government’s 2012 Bioenergy Strategy, up to 11 per cent of all the UK’s energy could come from burning biomass by 2020.
This would be almost three-quarters of the UK’s entire renewable energy target. The figure includes biofuels such as soya and palm oil that are linked to large-scale deforestation and land grabbing. However, the largest share is to come from burning wood, both in purpose-built new power stations and in coal power stations that are being fully or partly converted to wood pellets.
If the true purpose of the government’s renewable energy strategy was to reduce carbon emissions and promote more sustainable types of energy then their priorities would seem senseless. Energy companies have announced plans to build or convert power stations which altogether would burn 81 million tonnes of wood every year. The UK’s total wood production (for all purposes) is only 10 million tonnes annually. Planning consent has been granted for five coal power stations to partly or fully convert to wood. Those power stations alone will burn almost five times the UK’s annual wood production every year.
Not surprisingly then, the UK Bioenergy Strategy confirms that 80 per cent of biomass is expected to be imported. Most imports so far are from British Columbia and the southern US, two regions where highly biodiverse and carbon-rich forests are being clearcut at an ever faster rate. US campaigners have proven that the pellets come from whole trees, not just residues as companies like to claim. And one scientific study after another confirms that burning trees for electricity results in vast carbon emissions which cannot possibly be absorbed by new trees for decades or centuries, if ever. Meanwhile in the UK, figures commissioned by the last government showed that 1.75 million life years could be lost in 2020 as a result of bioenergy expansion – or rather due to just one of the dozens of different pollutants released from burning biomass.
So how did electricity from biomass come to take centre stage in the government’s renewables policy when it is clearly disastrous for the climate, for forests and for people’s health? The answer is lobbying – primarily by the Big Six energy companies and Drax. All of the coal-to-biomass conversions are for power stations which would otherwise have to close under EU legislation because they breach sulphur dioxide rules (and biomass, though overall much as polluting as coal, releases less sulphur dioxide).
To keep those power stations open, energy companies have demanded – and received – guarantees of long-term subsidies for burning biomass paid under the Renewables Obligation – as well as other investment support. This includes loans by the Green Investment Bank, which are informed by government priorities. Their first big loan went to Drax, and secretary of state Vince Cable has praised their vital role in stopping Drax from shutting down. Thanks to the Green Bank, Drax can keep burning vast amounts of coal as well as imported wood for years or decades to come.
Documents received by Biofuelwatch through a Freedom of Information request illustrate the degree of collusion between Drax and the government. Drax were satisfied with government guarantees of long-term support for biomass conversion well before the crucial subsidy rules were proposed to parliament.
Without breaking big energy companies’ hold over government policy, even its renewable energy strategy will continue to make climate change, deforestation and air pollution ever worse.
What if it's not us who are sick, asks Rod Tweedy, but a system at odds with who we are as social beings?
Survivors of the fire are still relying on thousands of community volunteers, writes Dan Renwick - but the failed council is plotting a comeback
The people could reach a democratic and non-violent solution if they were freed from US meddling, argues Boaventura de Sousa Santos
A decade after the start of the crash, economic power is in our hands – we must take it, writes Ann Pettifor
Nick Dowson looks at the new wave of co-ops and community groups where people are building their own truly affordable homes
Hsiao-Hung Pai meets people affected by the fire, and finds sadness and suffering mixed with a continuing wariness of the official investigations
Chris Williamson MP, winner of the election's tightest marginal, Derby North, and recently reappointed shadow minister for fire services, talks to Ashish Ghadiali about Jeremy Corbyn, the housing crisis and winning from the left
The Corbyn-supporting group is preparing for another election at any moment, writes Adam Peggs – and now has the potential to create powerful training initiatives, union links and party reform efforts
The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services
With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas
Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world
A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle
Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune
Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali
To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi
Tory Glastonbury? Money can’t buy you cultural relevance
Adam Peggs on why the left has more fun
Essay: After neoliberalism, what next?
There are economically-viable, socially-desirable alternatives to the failed neoliberal economic model, writes Jayati Ghosh
With the new nuclear ban treaty, it’s time to scrap Trident – and spend the money on our NHS
As a doctor, I want to see money spent on healthcare not warfare, writes David McCoy - Britain should join the growing international movement for disarmament
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India, by Shashi Tharoor, reviewed by Ian Sinclair
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour: Kenya, Britain and the Julie Ward Murder, by Grace A Musila, reviewed by Allen Oarbrook
‘We remembered that convictions can inspire and motivate people’: interview with Lisa Nandy MP
The general election changed the rules, but there are still tricky issues for Labour to face, Lisa Nandy tells Ashish Ghadiali
Everything you know about Ebola is wrong
Vicky Crowcroft reviews Ebola: How a People’s Science Helped End an Epidemic, by Paul Richards
Job vacancy: Red Pepper is looking for an online editor
Closing date for applications: 1 September.
Theresa May’s new porn law is ridiculous – but dangerous
The law is almost impossible to enforce, argues Lily Sheehan, but it could still set a bad precedent
Interview: Queer British Art
James O'Nions talks to author Alex Pilcher about the Tate’s Queer British Art exhibition and her book A Queer Little History of Art
Cable the enabler: new Lib Dem leader shows a party in crisis
Vince Cable's stale politics and collusion with the Conservatives belong in the dustbin of history, writes Adam Peggs
Anti-Corbyn groupthink and the media: how pundits called the election so wrong
Reporting based on the current consensus will always vastly underestimate the possibility of change, argues James Fox
Michael Cashman: Commander of the Blairite Empire
Lord Cashman, a candidate in Labour’s internal elections, claims to stand for Labour’s grassroots members. He is a phony, writes Cathy Cole
Contribute to Conter – the new cross-party platform linking Scottish socialists
Jonathan Rimmer, editor of Conter, says it’s time for a new non-sectarian space for Scottish anti-capitalists and invites you to take part
Editorial: Empire will eat itself
Ashish Ghadiali introduces the June/July issue of Red Pepper
Eddie Chambers: Black artists and the DIY aesthetic
Eddie Chambers, artist and art historian, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali about the cultural strategies that he, as founder of the Black Art Group, helped to define in the 1980s
Despite Erdogan, Turkey is still alive
With this year's referendum consolidating President Erdogan’s autocracy in Turkey, Nazim A argues that the way forward for democrats lies in a more radical approach
Red Pepper Race Section: open editorial meeting – 11 August in Leeds
The next open editorial meeting of the Red Pepper Race Section will take place between 3.30-5.30pm, Friday 11th August in Leeds.
Mogg-mentum? Thatcherite die-hard Jacob Rees-Mogg is no man of the people
Adam Peggs says Rees-Mogg is no joke – he is a living embodiment of Britain's repulsive ruling elite
Power to the renters: Turning the tide on our broken housing system
Heather Kennedy, from the Renters Power Project, argues it’s time to reject Thatcher’s dream of a 'property-owning democracy' and build renters' power instead
Your vote can help Corbyn supporters win these vital Labour Party positions
Left candidate Seema Chandwani speaks to Red Pepper ahead of ballot papers going out to all members for a crucial Labour committee
Join the Rolling Resistance to the frackers
Al Wilson invites you to take part in a month of anti-fracking action in Lancashire with Reclaim the Power
The Grenfell public inquiry must listen to the residents who have been ignored for so long
Councils handed housing over to obscure, unaccountable organisations, writes Anna Minton – now we must hear the voices they silenced