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.
When fire safety has become a privilege for the rich, it’s time to stop austerity and fund emergency mass works to raise standards immediately, writes Jane Shallice
The election result has irreversibly changed political discourse in the UK, writes James Fox
In commemoration of the 30th anniversary of Bernie Grant's election to parliament, Ayo Wallace explores the life and legacy of his radical representation of Tottenham's black communities.
Across Britain, hundreds of thousands of people have now taken part in mass rallies for Corbyn's Labour. Eli Regan soaks up the atmosphere in Warrington
The under-30s could be decisive in the general election. Frances Grahl meets young people hit by Tory austerity and looks at what's driving their support for Labour
“To them it’s just another number, someone else being sent back. But when you’ve got three children being left without their dad … it’s quite major,” writes Rebecca Omonira-Okeykanmi.
Hundreds of people surrounded the fences this weekend. Hera Lorandos spoke to women who have suffered inside.
Grassroots posters giving an alternative take on the general election
Laying out the case for Labour's leadership of a Progressive Alliance, Jeremy Gilbert argues that far from posing a threat to the Left, the Progressive Alliance offers a golden opportunity to end Tory rule and build a 21st century government committed to social justice
The Greens have stood down in Brighton Kemptown to clear the way for Labour, and the Lib Dems won’t stand in Brighton’s other seat, Green-held Pavilion. Davy Jones, who would have been the Green candidate in Kemptown, says this shows the way forward
Jeremy Corbyn is no longer the leader of the opposition – he has become the People’s Prime Minister
While Theresa May hides away, Corbyn stands with the people in our hours of need, writes Tom Walker
In the aftermath of this disaster, we must fight to restore respect and democracy for council tenants
Glyn Robbins says it's time to put residents, not private firms, back at the centre of decision-making over their housing
After Grenfell: ending the murderous war on our protections
Under cover of 'cutting red tape', the government has been slashing safety standards. It's time for it to stop, writes Christine Berry
Why the Grenfell Tower fire means everything must change
The fire was a man-made atrocity, says Faiza Shaheen – we must redesign our economic system so it can never happen again
Forcing MPs to take an oath of allegiance to the monarchy undermines democracy
As long as being an MP means pledging loyalty to an unelected head of state, our parliamentary system will remain undemocratic, writes Kate Flood
7 reasons why Labour can win the next election
From the rise of Grime for Corbyn to the reduced power of the tabloids, Will Murray looks at the reasons to be optimistic for Labour's chances next time
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 25 June
On June 25th, the fourth of Red Pepper Race Section's Open Editorial Meetings will celebrate the launch of our new black writers' issue - Empire Will Eat Itself.
After two years of attacks on Corbyn supporters, where are the apologies?
In the aftermath of this spectacular election result, some issues in the Labour Party need addressing, argues Seema Chandwani
If Corbyn’s Labour wins, it will be Attlee v Churchill all over again
Jack Witek argues that a Labour victory is no longer unthinkable – and it would mean the biggest shake-up since 1945
On the life of Robin Murray, visionary economist
Hilary Wainwright pays tribute to the life and legacy of Robin Murray, one of the key figures of the New Left whose vision of a modern socialism lies at the heart of the Labour manifesto.
Letter from the US: Dear rest of the world, I’m just as confused as you are
Kate Harveston apologises for the rise of Trump, but promises to make it up to us somehow
The myth of ‘stability’ with Theresa May
Settit Beyene looks at the truth behind the prime minister's favourite soundbite
Civic strike paralyses Colombia’s principle pacific port
An alliance of community organisations are fighting ’to live with dignity’ in the face of military repression. Patrick Kane and Seb Ordoñez report.
Greece’s heavy load
While the UK left is divided over how to respond to Brexit, the people of Greece continue to groan under the burden of EU-backed austerity. Jane Shallice reports
On the narcissism of small differences
In an interview with the TNI's Nick Buxton, social scientist and activist Susan George reflects on the French Presidential Elections.
Why Corbyn’s ‘unpopularity’ is exaggerated: Polls show he’s more popular than most other parties’ leaders – and on the up
Headlines about Jeremy Corbyn’s poor approval ratings in polls don’t tell the whole story, writes Alex Nunns
Job vacancy: Red Pepper is looking for a political organiser
Closing date for applications: postponed, see below
The media wants to demoralise Corbyn’s supporters – don’t let them succeed
Michael Calderbank looks at the results of yesterday's local elections
In light of Dunkirk: What have we learned from the (lack of) response in Calais?
Amy Corcoran and Sam Walton ask who helps refugees when it matters – and who stands on the sidelines
Osborne’s first day at work – activists to pulp Evening Standards for renewable energy
This isn’t just a stunt. A new worker’s cooperative is set to employ people on a real living wage in a recycling scheme that is heavily trolling George Osborne. Jenny Nelson writes
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 24 May
On May 24th, we’ll be holding the third of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Our activism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit…
Reflecting on a year in the environmental and anti-racist movements, Plane Stupid activist, Ali Tamlit, calls for a renewed focus on the dangers of power and privilege and the means to overcome them.
West Yorkshire calls for devolution of politics
When communities feel that power is exercised by a remote elite, anger and alienation will grow. But genuine regional democracy offers a positive alternative, argue the Same Skies Collective
How to resist the exploitation of digital gig workers
For the first time in history, we have a mass migration of labour without an actual migration of workers. Mark Graham and Alex Wood explore the consequences
The Digital Liberties cross-party campaign
Access to the internet should be considered as vital as access to power and water writes Sophia Drakopoulou
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part III: a discussion of power and privilege
In the final article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr gives a few pointers on how to be a good ally
Event: Take Back Control Croydon
Ken Loach, Dawn Foster & Soweto Kinch to speak in Croydon at the first event of a UK-wide series organised by The World Transformed and local activists
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change
Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself