Tag: communities

Supporting STEM Education in Canada: Drax Foundation’s Partnership with Scientists in School

The Drax Foundation has committed $100,000 to Scientists in School, a Canadian non-profit organization dedicated to enhancing STEM education for underserved populations in British Columbia and Alberta. This donation is particularly focused on communities where Drax operates, aiming to inspire scientific curiosity and future careers in STEM fields among young students.  

Mission and Impact 

Scientists in School’s mission is to ignite a passion for science in children, encouraging them to question, discover, and connect scientific concepts to their everyday lives. Last year, the Drax Foundation provided $48,000 to fund 140 classroom workshops in BC and Alberta, significantly expanding the reach of Scientists in Schools’ programs. These workshops have already made a profound impact, particularly in new school divisions and communities, and have deepened engagement in Vancouver. 

By the end of the 140 workshops, over 3,300 children will have experienced hands-on STEM learning, preparing them to become future engineers, researchers, technologists, and innovators. The organization’s goal is to further increase the number of schools and classrooms reached through a combination of donor-funded and user-paid workshops. Additionally, they plan to continue outreach efforts to more school authorities, including several in Grande Prairie, Parkland, Evergreen Catholic SD, North Okanagan-Shuswap, and Nechako Lakes with a focus on First Nations schools in these regions.  

Building on Success 

Last year’s funding allowed Scientists in School to offer more free workshops than ever before, expanding their presence significantly in both BC and Alberta. The additional $100,000 they have been awarded by the Drax Foundation this year will allow them to build on these achievements. The funds will support a new full-time outreach position, 140 classroom workshops in English and French, and offset costs for staff training and marketing. 

This investment is part of a broader plan to deliver over 1,600 classroom and 90 community STEM workshops to children aged 4-14 in BC and Alberta during the 2023-24 academic year. Of these, 690 workshops will be free, benefiting over 16,000 vulnerable children. The remaining 1,000 workshops will be user-paid, supporting the organization’s social enterprise model. 

Importance of STEM Education 

STEM knowledge and skills are crucial in today’s world, influencing nearly every aspect of our lives. STEM education fosters critical thinking, problem-solving, and knowledge-sharing, skills that are transferable across many fields. Research indicates that developing STEM skills early and engagingly is vital. Inquiry-based activities that connect to real-world issues are most effective in sparking children’s curiosity. 

Scientists in School’s workshops exemplify this hands-on approach, offering immersive, curriculum-aligned activities that engage children and encourage interaction. These workshops are crucial in addressing pandemic-induced learning loss, especially for children from disadvantaged backgrounds who faced significant educational barriers even before the pandemic. 

Looking Forward 

The continued support from the Drax Foundation enables Scientists in School to bring STEM skills and confidence to approximately 16,000 young students in underserved communities, preparing them for a future of innovation and success. This partnership not only enhances educational opportunities but also brings diverse ideas and perspectives to the workforce and social discourse. 

The collaboration between the Drax Foundation and Scientists in School is making a substantial difference in STEM education in BC and Alberta. As Diane Smit, Regional Manager of Scientists in School, stated, “It has been an absolute pleasure to see first-hand the impact of Drax’s generosity in action.” The ongoing support will undoubtedly continue to inspire and empower the next generation of scientists and innovators. 

The Drax Foundation has donated a total of $630k to STEM programs in Canada since 2023, reaching more than 7,200 young learners in the regions where Drax operates. 

To learn more about the Drax Foundation and its community projects, visit drax.com/ca/about-us/our-communities/ 

Supporting a circular economy in the forests

Every year in British Columbia, millions of tonnes of waste wood – known in the industry as slash – is burned by the side of the road.

Land managers are required by law to dispose of this waste wood – that includes leftover tree limbs and tops, and wood that is rotten, diseased and already fire damaged – to reduce the risks of wildfires and the spread of disease and pests.

The smoke from these fires is choking surrounding communities – sometimes “smoking out entire valleys,” air quality meteorologist from BC’s Environment Ministry Trina Orchard recently told iNFOnews.ca.

It also impacts the broader environment, releasing some 3 million tonnes of CO2 a year into the atmosphere, according to some early estimates.

Slash pile in British Columbia

Landfilling this waste material from logging operations isn’t an option as it would emit methane – a greenhouse gas that is about 25 times more potent than CO2. So you can see why it ends up being burned.

In its Modernizing Forest Policy in BC, the government has already identified its intention to phase out the burning of this waste wood left over after harvesting operations and is working with suppliers and other companies to encourage the use of this fibre.

This is a very positive move as this material must come out of the forests to reduce the fuel load that can help wildfires grow and spread to the point where they can’t be controlled, let alone be extinguished.

The wildfire risk is real and growing. Each year more forests and land are destroyed by wildfire, impacting communities, nature, wildlife and the environment.

In the past two decades, wildfires burned two and a half times more land in BC than in the previous 50-year period. According to very early estimates, emissions from last year’s wildfires in the province released around 150 million tonnes of CO2 – equivalent to around 30 million cars on the road for a year.

Alan Knight at the log yard for Lavington Pellet Mill in British Columbia

During my recent trip to British Columbia in Canada, First Nations, foresters, academics, scientists and government officials all talked about the burning piles of waste wood left over after logging operations.

Rather than burning it, it would be far better, they say, to use more of this potential resource as a feedstock for pellets that can be used to generate renewable energy, while supporting local jobs across the forestry sector and helping bolster the resilience of Canada’s forests against wildfire.

I like this approach because it brings pragmatism and common sense to the debate over Canada’s forests from the very people who know the most about the landscape around them.

Burning it at the roadside is a waste of a resource that could be put to much better use in generating renewable electricity, displacing fossil fuels, and it highlights the positive role the bioenergy industry can play in enhancing the forests and supporting communities.

Drax is already using some of this waste wood – which I saw in the log yard for our Lavington Pellet mill in British Columbia. This waste wood comprises around 20% of our feedstock. The remaining 80% comes from sawmill residues like sawdust, chips and shavings.

Waste wood for pellets at Lavington Pellet Mill log yard

It’s clear to me that using this waste material that has little other use or market value to make our pellets is an invaluable opportunity to deliver real benefits for communities, jobs and the environment while supporting a sustainable circular economy in the forestry sector.

In a crisis people come first

This crisis will be remembered for many things. Many are not positive, but some are inspiring. Around the world we’ve seen tremendous acts of kindness and witnessed remarkable resilience from people continuing to live, work and to support one another. The actions we are all taking as individuals, businesses and communities will not only help us get through this crisis, they will shape how we emerge from it.

At Drax we are proud of the ongoing role we’re playing in supporting the UK and its essential services, continuing to generate and supply the electricity needed to keep people healthy and the economy running.

It is what we have always done, and it is what we will continue to do.

This is possible because our people have continued to carry out their important work in these uncertain times safely and responsibly. My leadership team in the UK and US must continue to support them, and we must also support the communities they are a part of.

Employees Drax Power Station show their support and appreciation for the heroic efforts of those within the NHS by turning one of its cooling towers blue at 8pm each Thursday

Employees Drax Power Station show their support and appreciation for the heroic efforts of those within the NHS by turning one of its cooling towers blue at 8pm each Thursday

Our communities are at the core of what we do and who we are. They support our business globally and enable us to supply energy to the country. We have a responsibility to do what we can to help them through this crisis.

To do this we have put together a Covid-19 support package totalling more than three quarters of a million pounds that goes beyond just financing to make a positive impact. I’d like to highlight a few of these.

Supporting communities in Great Britain and the US

The Robinson family collect their laptop at Selby Community Primary School

The closures of schools and the need to turn homes into classrooms has been one of the biggest changes for many families. With children now depending on technology and the internet for schooling, there’s a very real chance those without access may fall behind, with a long term negative impact on their education.

We want to ensure no child is left out. So, we have donated £250,000 to buy 853 new laptops, each with three months of pre-paid internet access, and delivered them to schools and colleges local to our sites across the UK.

This has been implemented by Drax, working closely with headteachers. As one of our local heads Ian Clennan told us: “Schools don’t just provide education – they’re a whole support system. Having computers and internet access means pupils can keep in touch with their teachers and classmates more easily too – which is also incredibly important at the moment.”

In the US, we’re donating $30,000 to support hardship funds for the communities where we operate. Our colleagues in Louisiana are playing an active role in the community, and in Amite County, Mississippi, they have helped provide PPE to first responders as well as supporting charities for the families worse affected.

Helping businesses, starting with the most vulnerable

As an energy supplier to small and medium sized businesses (SMEs), we must act with compassion and be ready to help those who are most economically exposed to the crisis. To do this, we are launching a number of initiatives to support businesses, starting with some of the most vulnerable.

It’s clear that care homes require extra support at this time. We are offering energy bill relief for more than 170 small care homes situated near our UK operations for the next two months, allowing them to divert funds to their other priorities such as PPE, food or carer accommodation.

But it is also important we understand how difficult a period this is for small businesses of all kinds. Many of our customers are facing financial pressure that was impossible to forecast. To help relieve this, we have agreed deferred payment plans with some of our customers who are unable to pay in full. We have also extended current energy prices for three months for 4,000 customers of Opus Energy who have not been able to secure a new contract during this period.

The impact of this crisis will be long term, so we made a significant, two-year charitable donation to Business Debtline. A dedicated phoneline and webpage will be provided to our small businesses customers, offering free debt advice and helping them to recover for the future.

An engineer looks up at flue gas desulphurisation unit (FGD) at Drax Power Station. The massive pipe would transport flue gas from the Drax boilers to the carbon capture and storage (CCS) plant for CO<sub>2</sub> removal of between 90-95%.

An engineer looks up at flue gas desulphurisation unit (FGD) at Drax Power Station. The massive pipe would transport flue gas from the Drax boilers to the carbon capture and storage (CCS) plant for CO2 removal of between 90-95%.

Change for the future recovery

While there is still uncertainty around how the UK, the US and the world will emerge from the pandemic it is the responsibility of the whole energy industry to show compassion for its customers and to take the actions needed to soften the economic blow that Covid-19 is having across the globe.

The disruption to normal life caused by the pandemic has changed how the country uses electricity overnight. In the coming weeks we will be publishing a more in-depth view from Electric Insights showing exactly what effect this has had and what it might reveal for the future of energy.

No matter what that future holds, however, we will remain committed to enabling a zero carbon, lower cost energy future. This will mean not only supporting our people, our communities and our countries through the coronavirus crisis, but striving for a bright and optimistic future beyond it. A future where people’s immediate health, safety and economic wellbeing are prioritised alongside solutions to another crisis – that of climate change.