The behemoth Drax Power Station in the UK is switching from using coal as fuel to wood and crop residue biomass. The station outputs 4 GW which makes it one of the biggest power plants anywhere. The owners say it is “the largest, cleanest and most efficient coal-fired power station in the country” and appears genuinely committed to moving to renewable energy.
The Economist, while favoring the switch to renewables wonders just how carbon-neutral biomass is, especially considering that replacement crops and trees aren’t always planted at the same rate as they are used and also the carbon cost of getting the biomass to the plant by truck, then rail.
According to the European Environment Agency, an EU body not involved in setting subsidies, some biomass programmes could end up emitting more carbon than the fossil fuels they are being subsidised to replace.
They favor a carbon tax rather than the subsidies Drax will receive, saying let the marketplace choose. But how would new technologies get then the boost they need? And we all know how well letting the magic of the marketplace has worked out in finance and real estate. Subsidizing important new technologies is a needed and important role for governments. After all, that’s how we got solar photovoltaic and the internet. Governments need to do the same with renewable energy.