Drax has been cutting down environmentally-important forests in Canada to fuel the UK’s biggest power station, according to a BBC Panorama investigation.
The company is burning millions of tonnes of imported wood pellets at its plant in North Yorkshire – which is classed as renewable energy and receives billions of pounds in green energy subsidies from UK taxpayers.
The BBC has revealed this includes wood from primary forests in Canada, which are home to rare, old carbon-rich trees.
Its investigation team analysed satellite images, traced logging licences and used drone filming to prove its findings.
One of the reporters also followed a truck from a Drax mill to verify it was picking up whole logs from an area of precious forest.
The Drax power station in Yorkshire is a converted coal plant, which now produces 12 per cent of the UK’s renewable electricity.
It has already received £6bn in green energy subsidies.
Panorama discovered Drax bought logging licences to cut down two areas of environmentally-important forest in British Columbia.
The entire area covered by the second Drax logging licence has already been cut down.
Burning wood produces more greenhouse gases than burning coal.
However, the electricity is defined as renewable because new trees are planted to replace the old ones, which should recapture the carbon emitted by burning wood pellets.
Recapturing the carbon takes is a multi-decade process, and the off-setting can only work if the pellets are made with wood from sustainable sources.
Primary forests, which have never been logged before, store vast quantities of carbon and are not considered a sustainable source.
It is highly unlikely replanted trees will ever hold as much carbon as the old forest.
When approached for comment, a Drax spokesperson said: “Drax does not harvest forests and has not taken any material directly from the two areas the BBC has looked at. The forests in British Columbia are harvested for high value timber used in construction, not the production of biomass.
“Drax uses sustainable biomass to produce 12 per cent of the UK’s renewable electricity and plays a critical role in keeping the lights on for millions of homes and business across the country.”
The company revealed that eighty per cent of the material used to make Drax’s pellets in Canada is sawmill residues – including sawdust, wood chips and bark left over when timber is processed.
The rest is waste material collected from the forests which would otherwise be burned to reduce the risk of wildfires and disease.
Drax also operates one of the UK’s few remaining coal terminals, which has been kept open over winter.