Drax has insisted it takes its environmental responsibilities “very seriously” after a climate watchdog uncovered that an American company it owns had been breaching pollution laws in the US for nearly two years at a Mississippi-based plant
The energy giant and operator of the UK’s largest power plant told City A.M. it had noticed inconsistencies in its US air pollution calculations and had worked with the authorities to resolve them earlier this year.
However, it did not deny that the company it owned, Amite Bioenergy, had breached environmental rules between 2021 and late 2022.
The Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) used a freedom of information request to reveal that Amite has been supplying wood pellets from its US plant to the UK while violating pollution laws in Gloster, Mississippi. The town is home to nearly a thousand people.
It found out that the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) wrote to Amite Bioenergy – which operates the plant – warning that it had violated emissions rules again.
The notice of violation, issued in March, revealed that the company was permitted to emit 24 tons (22 tonnes) per year of hazardous air pollutants on a rolling 12-month basis.
However, this reached as much as 37 tons between January 2021 and December 2022, peaking in July 2022.
The latest developments follow Drax being fined $2.5m (£2.01m) in 2021 for exceeding air permit limits at the site.
It is uncertain whether the latest breach will lead to a financial penalty.
A Drax spokesperson said: “In January 2022, our new environmental consultant reviewed our previous Hazardous Air Pollutant (HAP) calculations and identified some discrepancies. We contacted MDEQ immediately and worked to fine-tune the HAP emissions calculations further and we provided them with these updated readings.
“Drax took prompt corrective action in response and worked with MDEQ to resolve the issues and provide them with accurate reports and permit applications. We continue to work with leading environmental consultants to ensure that we monitor and report permit compliance in a rigorous and transparent manner.
“The safety of our people and the communities in which we operate is our priority, and we take our environmental responsibilities very seriously.”
The plant in Gloster, Mississippi, converts trees sourced from southern states into wooden pellets, which are later burnt as biomass fuel in Drax’s power station in Selby, North Yorkshire.
This makes up 12 per cent of the UK’s renewable energy mix – with its 2.6GW biomass plant burning millions of tonnes of imported wood pellets to generate energy – providing around four per cent of the UK’s overall output.
Last year, Drax was the subject of a BBC Panorama documentary, which accused it of cutting down protected forests – a claim it denies.
The company reported annual profits of £731m last year, up from £398m the year before, and plans to hand investors £150m through a share buyback.
The latest controversy comes after Drax announced plans to expand significantly in the US, with the FTSE 250 firm hoping to expand its operations in North America as it seeks to take full advantage of the benefits on offer under the US Inflation Reduction Act.
This follows its UK bioenergy project with carbon capture and storage being excluded by ministers from the opening funding round.
The company’s shares were up 0.85 per cent on the London Stock Exchange this afternoon, trading at 591p per share.