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Biomass Wood Pellets

Environmental NGO Biofuelwatch questions lawfulness of Teesside biomass site plans

The campaign group Biofuelwatch UK is investigating the lawfulness of the government’s decision to enter into a contract with MGT Teesside for a biomass power plant.

Posted on 15 July 2021

Biofuelwatch has written a letter before action to the Department of Business Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) arguing that the contract to build the power plant is unlawful and it should be terminated.

It argues that the contract is unlawful because it was entered into under the Energy Act 2013 to be treated as a form of low carbon energy, but it can be no longer considered as such because it has become clear that biomass will not contribute to a reduction in greenhouse gases.

The plant will reportedly burn 1.1m tonnes of wood a year, potentially emitting 1.8 million tonnes of CO2.

Work on the power plant has been delayed. It is due to start generating energy on 3 August, 2021 and the group is contemplating legal action so that any payments to MGT Teesside can be scrutinised by the Courts.

The contract for the biomass power plant was agreed in May 2014, and then responsibility for administering it was transferred to the Low Carbon Contract Company (LCCC). It was agreed that no payments would be made until the project started, which has not yet happened.

In the seven years since the agreement was made, BEIS has recognised that electricity generated by wood pellets, such as those that would be burned at Teesside power station will lead to greater greenhouse gas emissions than truly low carbon forms of electricity generation, such as wind power, but insists that there is no provision for either the contract, or its earlier assessment of the carbon impact, to be revisited.

Represented by law firm Leigh Day, Biofuelwatch UK says the decision to continue with the project is unlawful and irrational, as is the assertion that the underlying validity of the contract cannot be revisited.

Almuth Ernsting, co-director of Biofuelwatch said:

"Seven years after MGT Teesside was awarded generous renewable power subsidies for a biomass plant not yet up and running, it is clear that this venture has no place in a low-carbon strategy. Cutting down trees, turning them into wood pellets, shipping them across the Atlantic and burning them with less than 40 per cent efficiency is clearly not compatible with addressing the climate emergency. We therefore hope that the Low Carbon Contracts Company will respond to the letter from Leigh Day by cancelling the contract, a decision that would be in the public interest."

Sasha Stashwick, a campaigner with the Cut Carbon Not Forests campaign, said:

“Trees burned in UK power stations are routinely sourced from clearcuts of biodiverse forests overseas, and this will be the biomass that fuels MGT Teesside should the plant commence operating. It’s hard to imagine a more expensive or wasteful way to harm the environment than going ahead with these subsidies when wind and solar projects guarantee real emissions cuts at a fraction of the cost of dirty biomass electricity.”

Leigh Day solicitor Rowan Smith said:

“The Government has already recognised that future biomass projects like this one are no longer low carbon solutions without the right thresholds in place, yet it is steadfastly ignoring those projects that have yet to come online, but which were assessed against now outdated criteria. Our client believes that such an approach is potentially unlawful, and therefore is rightly engaging the Government and the LCCC in pre-action correspondence.”

Rowan Smith
Climate change Environment Human rights Judicial review Planning Wildlife

Rowan Smith

Rowan Smith is a senior associate solicitor in the human rights department.

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