Is the Drax power station's conversion from coal to biomass energy doing harm to the environment? Can the north/south divide be bridged to bring more prosperity to the north?
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Good evening and welcome to Inside Out.
Good evening and welcome to Inside Out.
Tonight, is Drax Power Station's conversion
from coal to green biomass `ny worse for the environment?
Should Drax stop its conversion programme?
After the Scottish vote, should the North of England be
asking for more autonomy to help us narroa the North South divide.
Until recently, Drax Power Station near Selby was
known as a serial polluter, pumping CO2 into the atmosphere
They have been using governlent cash to move from burning coal
Far from being a green policy, some people think that is
For a million years man has burnt wood for heat and light,
But now it's being used on an industrial scale to satisfy our
need for low pollution, gredn energy and that's led to questions about
Burning these forests is worse than coal in terms of the amount
of carbon that is going to be put into the atmosphere.
There are good ways of burning biomass and bad ways
If you procure it from a sizeable source,
The future of Drax Power St`tion relies on burning wood, what's
Drax is Western Europe's largest power plant and it's working hard to
lose the label of Britain's biggest pollutdr.
That means burning less coal to generate electricity.
And this is how it will happen, burning tonnes and tonnes
To start with three of the six generating units in Drax
I think it is important for the future of the UK, actually.
We are one of the most efficient power stations and low on elissions
If it remains a coal station, it will shut down next
What biomass does is it turns us into a renewable power stathon,
gives us a long`term future, preserves that 7% of generation for
the UK, preserves jobs in Yorkshire and it is a good renewable.
So far so good but an operation this large needs a lot of wood,
according to some estimates as much as nine million tonnes everx year.
That's nearly double the entire UK forestry output.
So Drax has needed to look dlsewhere and that's meant going to the
United States where they sax they have more than enough wood to meet
Every half an hour 24 hours a day seven days a week,
these biomass trains arrive from the Humber ports and from Tdesport.
Most of the material does come from the US and to many people,
cutting down trees in the States, shipping them here to Drax via the
Humber ports is a long journey to justify us being carbon fridndly.
We thought from the beginning there was no sense in us importing
this biomass if we can't be confident it is a low carbon fuel.
The only way you can know that is you have to measure the carbon cost
from the forest or the field all the way through the supply chain,
through any processing, through the shipping, right the way through the
ports, trains to tracks, look at that compared to other ftels
We know we deliver 80% savings relative to coal.
Drax's conversion from coal to wood is all supported
by public subsidy, but on the condition that it produces
Drax needs to prove its bushness isn't harming the environment.
With so much wood to source, Drax has to rely on contractors
I've been invited to see part of the Drax wood pellet operation
in the United States so I'm off to Savannah,
Georgia to find out where the wood that's burnt here is coming from.
This is a tree nursery ` part of one of the biggest operations
Matthew Rivers from Drax is showing me how it works.
This site is 85 acres and is producing ?60 million a year.
The company running this nursery is called Plum Creek owns nearly 7
million acres of wood across 19 states.
It provides employment in some of the poorest areas of the USA
and is proud of its commitment to the environment.
Plum Creek is a main supplier to Drax.
About 85% of our fuel is this raw matdrial.
We are always looking to assess in our diligence upfront beford we sign
up with the supplier and thdn on monetary verification afterwards.
The harvest is within annual reliable cut.
We're not moving into an arda where we will deplete the carbon stock.
The forest is managed sustahnably and we can satisfy ourselves
and external auditors that our fuel is generally sustainably sotrced.
These trees play an important role in absorbing greenhouse gasds.
But Drax insists what it's cutting down here is waste wood
When Plum Creek's trees are bigger, they are harvested for sawmhlls to
But the smaller or misshapen trees, called thinning, go for pellets
We are sitting on our high`value saw logs.
Nice clear wood, preferable in a sawmill.
They are picked out and grown for their quality.
There is waste in the forest as well, stuff you can't usd.
It is waste material or bi`products of growing a sawn log.
Of course the lumber industry has existed for
centuries in the US ` Drax says all it's doing is buying up a cheap bi`
product of this industry, that in the past has gone to paper lills.
But for some there's a darkdr side to the biomass industry,
which is worrying campaigners on both sides of the Atlanthc.
We are at the edge of the rhver on the edge of the floodplahn.
Drax stands accused of destroying hardwood natural forests in the USA
Not just using waste wood but cutting down trees
which environmentalists say should be protected.
The biomass industry want you to see an artificial plantation th`t is
They don't want you to see a natural forest like these
hardwoods in part because anyone can look around here and say th`t there
is a lot that wood be lost hf these are cut and burned for fuel.
The southern environmental law centre isn't a lone voice
Earlier this year 60 leading US scientists wrote to the British
government urging it to reconsider its biomass policy.
The easiest way to see what they're worried about is from the ahr.
Some of these forests are ddscribed as endangered
The forests below me under pressure an expanding from biomass
Derb Carter shows me a largd area of cleared forest which he believes
He claims this was recently cut down by one of Drax's main supplhers
And just a few miles away from the clearing is
a large pellet mill ` one of three operating in the rdgion.
Derb Carter believes the trdes which are visible on the wood pile
Historically, we have lost ` lot of this forest over many decades.
We were just getting to a point where the loss was stabilishng.
Now this industry is putting pressure on the forests
and we are starting to see lore loss than we have been actually
Having seen the forests of North Carolina from the air,
Tim McCormick has been a river guide in the swamps for most of hhs life.
There is not a lot of peopld round here that of these forests.
They never consider doing anything but coming.
It is the way people make money around here.
The timber industry is to this place what
It is the bread and butter `nd what makes a lot of money for people
Environmentalists like Adam Macon believe the biomass industrx
and its growing demand for pellets is a big factor
They are sourcing what they are using, that power,
They're sourcing from right here in the south, from our southern forest,
from the forest that we relx on to protect us from the worst effects of
climate change, that we relx on to improve water quality and wd rely on
to providers habitat for all of the amazing diversity th`t exists
It doesn't seem that Drax is taking that into account,
the impacts of what they ard having here in the southern United States.
As well as being a bio diversity hotspot, North Carolina is `lso the
America is the largest exporter of wood pellets in the world.
Enviva is another supplier tsed by Drax to source wood pelldts.
This is its factory in Ahoskie North Carolina, along with
Drax it was recently nominated by the Ecologist magazine as one
Do we know for sure that hardwood like this is
I understand that it is a major supplier of Drax.
We know many of these hardwood trees will end up being burned
Enviva insists it adheres to all state and national government
In fact they were happy to show me around a wood pellet facility `
not in North Carolina but just 30 miles or so across state
It's a 24/7 operation turning trees into pellets
It is the scale of this industry that is so striking.
This one factory on its own produces half 1 lillion
Enviva says all the wood here is low qualitx waste `
The company says it's confident that the logging firms which supply it
are acting responsibly and not depleting natural h`bitat.
We have quite strict policids in place that we track to the land We
know where it comes from, what happens, why every piece of fibre
ended up on our lot and it didn t have a use in a sawmill. It is
audited by third parties and we feel confident that what we are doing is
sustainable for the convershon of the generation in counties like the
UK. They are busy school of thought that says that you should bd going
to your suppliers and saying we are strict about the criteria. The
criticism is that you are not strict enough. We actually think wd are
very strict. We have a 0 tolerance policy. If we find people do not
comply with the best managelent practices, comply with endangered
species act and the clean w`ter act, we will cut off the supplier. We
have not had to do it very luch but we would do it definitely.
These pellets will shortly begin their journey to Europe.
evidence that we?ve collectdd and a list of questions to put to the
In recent months, the UK government has also had questions to ask.
It is spending hundreds of lillions of pounds subsidising Drax?s
conversion from coal to biolass and has raised its own concdrns
The government recently published its so`called ?Carbon Calculator?
That said that in some instances burning trees for
power could actually be worse for the environment than burning coal.
Here at the RSPB it?s something they?re also concerned about.
The report the government ptblished really confirmed something we have
known for a long time, that there is a serious risk when we burn wood in
power stations like Drax. It also said some sources are good for the
climate, but the big problel is the government are not responding to the
report by changing standards and making sure only good biomass is
used. Should Drax stop its conversion programme? For now, yes.
But back at Drax, they are `damant they have got it right. Biolass is
working to reduce greenhousd gases. Anything you can do, you can do it
in a good or bad way. We worked this out when we set up the strategy
that the first thing we did was we went around the world and looked at
what were the sustainabilitx standards for forestry and
agriculture and we set what we considered to be the best standard,
which set good requirements. The company has rejected claims that it
is destroying valuable wetl`nd habitat like the area we were shown
by campaigners in North Carolina. Some of the areas have wonddrful
diverse wildlife, and those are carefully assessed and protdcted. We
will only deal with pellet producers that produced biomass from `reas
that are not protected, that are not defined as special habitats. To
illustrate the concern, thex flew us over our area which had been cut
down next to an area of protected habitat. Very little differdnce The
question is, who made that definition? Where was the lhne drawn
and must have been drawn by an expert. We as an industry whll try
to be responsible but it is not our job to determine the law. From next
April, the government is brhnging in new laws for the sourcing of
biomass, mindful of habitat protection and carbon emisshons It
is unclear how these will bd enforced 4000 miles away in the
United States. But even thotgh the facility was opened by the Linister
for climate change himself, he has declined repeated requests for an
interview. There is continudd scientific debate about whether
burning trees is better or worse than call for the environment. What
is clear is that there is htge pressure for Drax to keep the lights
on in the UK, and the company sees biomass is very much the future for
this industrial giant. Well, it?s been said it will take
the creation of a Northern lega city stretching from Liverpool to
Newcastle to rebalance With Scotland likely to gain more
power after the independencd vote, many feel it?s time
for the Government to stop talking and act to ensure the North doesn?t
fall further behind It?s a global hub that sucks in the
brightest and best from all over But has it just become too big
and powerful, leaving the North with Whitehall feels very far reloved
from cities around the country. So is the North stuck
on the slow train while Are we starting to generate
the jobs needed to keep our brightest and best from heading
to the already overheated c`pital? People think engineering is dying
out, but there are so many jobs Working here, I?ve seen loads
of opportunities I?ve never really It?s morning rush hour and H?m
joining commuters I'm about to board a train to make
a journey, that for many, is a symbol of the yawning gap
between the North and London. I've joined Maurice Duffy, CEO of
Blackswan, an international business Today he's off to Manchester
to launch a new book. Anything between 2:30
to 2:45. That's if it's on time, of course,
and it doesn?t get delayed I?m guessing you could get to London
in much the same time. I do Newcastle to London twhce
a week and I can do that in 2:4 to three hours and that's
an extra 120 miles longer. So we're chugging along
on our transPennine journey, but many feel transport is just
a symbol of what's holding ts back. People
across the North were asked whether they agreed that the Governlent and
Parliament were responsive to issues Manchester was the most
positive with 21% agreeing. In Sheffield,
that figure dropped to just 7%. Liverpool
and Leeds were only marginally more positive at 8%, and in Hull
and Newcastle the number was 14 . That's how little
the North reckons London cares The Centre
for Cities is an influential think I've come to meet
its chief executive to find out how you go about bridging the g`p
between London and the North. We talk to business and thex say
if it's not London, it's New York. Usually second tier
cities are a certain size, but with ours, Leeds and Manchester
are not as big as you'd expdct. We would like to see not London
shrinking but the second`tidr cities getting bigger.
So is enough being done to rebalance England's economy?
Around three quarters of people in Leeds and Newcastle belidve
the location of Parliament in Westminster means political
decisions are too focused on London in comparison to the rest of the UK.
We would like to see more freedom for cities.
Making sure that cities can decide far more how they can spend money on
transport and skills. And if you're looking
for evidence of bias in favour Spending on public transport in
London amounts to ?5000 per head. Which leads many Northerners to
question the sense of spendhng tens of billions on HS2 onlx to
get people to London even qticker. Especially when you're stuck
on the slow train. Getting Manchester and Leeds and
Sheffield linked up better with public transport is hugely
important. Manchester, Sheffield and Leeds have responded to the
challenge set them by the Chancellor to compete more effectively with
London. The cities want a 15`year transport
infrastructure plan with It's great the five cities have come
together to create a single plan that chimes with the plan I have set
out. Cynics might say it?s easy to back
such a plan But Scotland's no vote has
reinforced the resentment of Yorkshire and the Humber has a
population equivalent to Scotland's. Greater Manchester has almost
as many as the whole of Walds. And Tyne and Wear is almost
as big as Northern Ireland. Yet none of those English rdgions
have anywhere near the same level of Many believe it's
about time that changed. But back on the slow train ht
could be decades before there's It?s 09:52,
right? that?s nearly two hours to get
from Newcastle to Leeds and we've Yes,
at York the train was cancelled We hopped off
and waited with the other p`ssengers 20 minutes later and we're
on this train headed Look, this isn't some Northdrn
whingeathon. Few believe the pavements of London
are actually paved with gold. That?s what?s happened here
at the Advanced Manufacturing Park on the border between Sheffheld
and Rotherham. It's attracted 200 businessds,
some small and some not so small. This is an innovative environment.
Manufacturing is at a 20 ye`r high in this region.
Performance Engineering Solttions was started up by Mike Maddock, an
ex`Formula 1 racing team engineer and an entrepreneur from thd South.
He hopes to expand fivefold in the next few years, if hd can get
Today, his design team is working on a new high`tech golf putter
and a factory cooling unit `s well as gear box for a wheelchair.
70% of their design commisshons are for overseas clients.
There has been a brain drain to the south but also out of the UK, and we
need to stop that. It can provide more opportunities. London hs very
busy, very big. I am from a mile down the road so it is great that I
can be so close to home and be able to develop my skill set without
moving further afield. I evdn looked at India and China at one point
There is a huge shortage of engineers and the skills gap could
stop the UK in its tracks. A hundred metres away they're
working at fixing just that problem. The AMRC training centre has 40
engineering apprentices with another 250 starting in September,
all learning the skills they need for thd jobs
they've already been guaranteed We spoke to two of the apprdntice is
currently being trained as engineers. I applied to go to
university but then this instead because I wanted the hands`on
approach. The companies are small which is why most people have not
heard of them but they can still take on apprentices.
So they?ve got a bright futtre as engineers but at some st`ge they
might need to travel farther afield for a job in another city.
I?ve found that can be problematic anywhere across the North.
We've been travelling now for 2 hours 45 minutes
and we're sat outside Manchdster, we don?t know why.
This train has travelled at an average of 60 miles an hour.
That's a third as quickly as the one that goes
Finally, journey's end and time to s`y
farewell to Maurice who'll be back on the same slow train very soon.
But it gives me a chance to see an example of how moving out
of London can create thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions
It was such an opportunity they even moved the most famous street in the
What the BBC and ITV have done here is they have helped bring slaller
media Enterprises year and created a hub.
Media City is a 200 acre site which straddles the canal
between Salford and Trafford, it's said to be the largest facility
of its type in Europe and it came about through a political ddcision
But this is just one small part of the jigsaw and it'll takd
a lot more political will to move power and money from London to
the North and enable our grdat cities to compete with the capital
Scotland might have said no to independence
And just south of the border that hasn't gone unnoticed.
That's all for tonight but lake sure you join us next week. We'll be
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Inside Out brings you the stories that matter in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire.
This week, Paul Murphy examines claims that Drax power station's conversion from coal to so-called 'green' biomass energy is doing more harm than good to the environment. And Toby Foster asks whether we can bridge the north-south divide and bring more jobs and prosperity to the North of England.