REA welcomes biomass power sustainability criteria

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Certainty for supply chain to ensure biomass best practice. But uncertain future for new biomass power projects.

The REA welcomes the Government’s new sustainability criteria for biomass power and CHP, published today [1]. The criteria will ensure that only projects with strong ecological protections and high carbon savings can be supported under the Renewables Obligation (RO) and count towards renewable energy targets. However, the REA is urging Government not to withdraw support for the construction of new biomass power plants under the forthcoming Contracts for Difference (CfD) regime.

REA Chief Executive Dr Nina Skorupska said:

“These sustainability criteria ensure that the UK can reap the benefits of biomass, safe in the knowledge that it is making a real dent in our carbon emissions and that ecologically sensitive land is being protected. Biomass is a great way to bridge the looming capacity gap because it has all the same benefits as fossil fuels – such as reliability and flexibility of supply – but without the carbon impacts.”

The REA is pleased that Government is taking steps to ensure environmental best practice in the use of biomass for heat and power. However, this is incongruous with the Government’s moves to restrict the construction of biomass power plants in the RO, and not support them at all under the forthcoming CfD regime. New biomass plants will only be supported under these schemes if they produce heat as well as power (combined heat and power, CHP).

Dr Nina Skorupska said:

“Biomass power can help bridge the energy gap because it is affordable, helps to meet base load power needs and is relatively quick to build. It can also help economic recovery by creating jobs in construction and the ongoing operation of the plants.

“CHP is an excellent use of the resource but it is not feasible in sites where there is no user for the heat load. The Government will have serious regrets down the line if it excludes the construction of dedicated biomass power plants from the new regime.”

The REA rejects the arguments used by green campaigners who claim that biomass power is ‘dirtier than coal’ [2]. Their research is based on worst case scenarios involving the burning of whole trees and unsustainable forest management. In reality, the biomass industry uses primarily thinnings and residues, as it cannot afford to compete with other industries for high quality virgin wood. Sustainable forest management, including high levels of replanting, is in fact key to the foresters’ bottom line as it safeguards their ability to do business in the future.

Dr Nina Skorupska said:

“It is absolutely right that biomass should only be supported if it can be proven to be good for the environment. These criteria enable industry to do exactly that. They are challenging, but not unattainable. Generators are actually incentivised to over-achieve on greenhouse gas savings in order to minimise the risk of non-compliance.

“I invite the NGOs who have concerns about biomass to work with us to iron out the details of implementing these standards. If we get it right, which I’m sure we will, the UK will be reinforcing the highest standards of sustainable forestry for trade partners around the world. That is a worthy goal to aim for.”

Industry already reports on greenhouse gas (GHG) savings and land use under the RO, and the minimum standards will become mandatory in April 2015. These minimum standards will tighten significantly over the period up to 2030, while the methodology used to calculate GHG savings will be unchanged for plants which accredit in the near term. This design does well to join together goals of ensuring that the industry is continuously improving, while also providing forward visibility to industry to enable investment.