Biomass protest to take place as huge log piles grow at sites including Minster

Campaigner Nik Mitchell at the huge Minster log pile Photo Nik Mitchell

Thanet Green Party members are organising a demo as part of an International Day of Action Against Big Biomass on Friday (October 21).

The demo will be held at the northern entrance to Discovery Park in Sandwich to directly protest against the biomass plant on site and to highlight the huge log piles stacked up at sites in Minster, at Wingham and at Discovery Park due to the biomass plant’s turbine being out of operation – causing a backlog.

The pile of logs at Minster is some 25ft tall and runs for around half a mile. It is the responsibility of Euroforest Ltd, the supplier for Kent Renewable Energy at Discovery Park.

The log storing requires planning permission but this is not in place for the site at Minster.

Thanet Green councillor Becky Wing visited the site and says she was shocked at the massive size of it.

She said: “After a quick google of government guidance on the storage of wood I reported it to both Thanet council planning and licensing departments on October 11. Planning officers investigated and confirmed that the site does require a planning application and the company now have 14 days to do this.”

Thanet council enforcement officers have told company Euroforest Limited that an application must be made.

A Thanet council spokesperson said: “Planning permission is required for the open storage of logs at Minster. Our Planning Enforcement team has been in contact with the company responsible, to request that they submit an application within a defined timescale.

“In line with our enforcement protocol, we aim to bring unauthorised developments back into the planning system. This is important to make sure that consultation can take place, and proposals can be properly considered.”

Photo Nik Mitchell

The £160million biomass plant opened in 2018 and bosses from Kent Renewable Energy say it generates 27MW of renewable electricity using locally sourced wood as fuel, which is the equivalent of supplying 50,000 homes and saving over 100,000 tons of CO2 every year.  The plant provides heat and power to the Discovery Park with the excess being exported to the local electricity grid.

A statement from Kent Renewable Energy says: “Kent Renewable Energy (KRE) provides sustainable electricity to tens of thousands of homes in the South East, and sustainable heat and electricity to the 3,500 employees of the Discovery Park Life Sciences Park. According to the UK Government methodology, KRE’s operations result in Green House Gas emission saving of over 95% compared to the average unit of electricity used in the UK.

“All the wood that we use is sustainably sourced from managed woodlands in the UK in accordance with Forestry Stewardship Council controlled wood procedures; with around 70% coming from nearby Kent, Sussex, Hampshire & Surrey. We used a small proportion of wood from Estonia during our early operation. This amounts to 3% of our usage to date and is no longer part of our supply. Around 40-50% of the material we currently use is suffering from ash dieback and for every ash dieback tree that is removed, eight to twelve resilient native broadleaves saplings are planted in its place.

“Woodlands managed in line with Forestry Stewardship Council procedures ensure older trees are replaced with newly planted trees that remove more CO2 from the atmosphere faster as they grow – ensuring that our woodlands are as effective a carbon sink as they can be. As unmanaged woodlands grow older, the rate at which they absorb CO2 from the atmosphere slows and eventually they die, releasing the more potent greenhouse gas methane into the atmosphere as they decompose.

“The South East is one of the most densely wooded areas of England and the commercial forestry in this area used to feed a paper industry that has largely closed down, leaving the local forestry to become unmanaged.

“KRE was conceived as a way of helping to manage this woodland and provide local countryside jobs. Bringing this forestry back under management increases the effectiveness of the woodlands as a carbon sink.“

Campaigners dispute the carbon balancing claim and say the process releases more C02 than burning coal. Nik Mitchell, from Wildlife Conservation in Thanet, said: “They say the wood burnt is from trees too small for timber industry, diseased or rotten (grade 6 or Z), but it turns out only 11% of it is that grade.

“Companies are getting billions of pounds of environmental subsidies cutting down primary forest and we are funding this.”

Environmental campaigners say the issue with biomass is that it takes huge areas of land and huge quantities of wood to supply a tiny fraction of the energy we use.

They say burning biomass emits CO2 to the atmosphere, just as burning fossil fuels does. The Biofuel Watch group says: “Those emissions are ignored in government and  energy company carbon accounting – yet the science increasingly shows that this is a dangerous omission and that cutting down trees for energy raises carbon in the atmosphere precisely when we need to rapidly reduce it to have any hope of keeping global warming to 1.5 degrees.”

Not all wood is locally sourced for the plant at Sandwich. A Freedom of Information request lodged by the group Thanet Trees last year shows that just 33% was sourced from Kent in the 2019/20 financial year. Some 8,609 tonnes of the wood came from Estonia.

The Thanet Trees FOI also shows Kent Renewable Energy used 183, 054 tonnes of virgin material, 28, 274 tonnes of waste wood and 18, 537 tonnes of sawmill residues:

Photo Nik Mitchell

Cllr Wing said she is thankful that a number of locals, Thanet Trees and the Thanet Green Party, have been keeping a close eye on and researching biomass plants, including the one at Sandwich owned and run by Kent Renewable Energy Ltd (KRE).

She said: “These groups and individuals have long held the view that energy produced from Biomass Plants is ‘greenwashing’ of the most despicable kind and is clearly detrimental to forests in the UK and further afield.

“The KRE website proudly claims to ‘burn locally sourced wood fuel to generate heat and power’ and further claims it ‘saves 100,000 tons of CO2 equal to 1 million planes flights to Paris’, but fails to provide a breakdown of associated CO2 produced to; fell, transport, de-bark, chip, dry and then burn, to generate this so-called renewable energy.

“How do biomass plants make this all work financially? The answer is that subsidies are at the heart of making this financially viable, with the Drax Biomass Power Station, for example receiving £893m in subsidies for burning forest biomass in 2021 alone. This is a whopping £2.44m a day, so effectively we, the tax payers, are paying for trees to be cut down and burnt, this simply cannot be right and it is certainly could not be considered environmentally friendly.

“We are often shocked and horrified at images of Orangutans clinging to the last tree as companies clear large parts of the world’s rainforests, and yet our government is using our money to do exactly the same, justifying it as renewable energy.”

Cllr Wing says she has real concerns about the build-up of wood by the side of the A299 near the Minster roundabout.

She said she was thankful Thanet council had acted quickly to address this but added: “I am quite frankly gobsmacked that anyone could think it was OK to do this without the proper planning measures in place.”

She added there are further concerns that the gates to the site are often just left open, there is no security or any sign of firefighting prevention or equipment, or a secure fence surrounding the pile.

Thanet Green Party says there should now be serious questions asked of the South Thanet MP who supports this ‘renewable energy.’ and why his government is spending billions ‘to destroy woodland and associated ecosystems.’

Thanet Green Party says the money should instead be used to retrofit old properties and build new eco-friendly Passive Houses, reducing energy bills for residents rather than boosting profits for big business.

The annual report for Kent Renewable Energy for year ending December 2020 – the latest available – shows the company made an operating loss of £2,578,004 caused by a combination of factors including severe pressure on power prices globally resulting from the impacts of Covid-19 and a 55 day planned plant shut down to repair the turbine. The report also says the plant is expected to be decommissioned in 2044.

The protest on Friday will be held from 3pm-5pm. For precise location use

The international day of action is organised by the forests, climate and biomass working group from Environmental Pzper group.

The aim is to raise awareness of the environmental and social impacts of burning forest biomass on an industrial scale.