No Subsidies for Biomass Plants

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The UK Government is intending to introduce new subsidies for energy which they class as renewable, these proposed subsidies are called “Contracts for Difference”. Their subsidy rules and proposals would be a major boost for power stations that burn large amounts of mainly imported wood.

Most of the UK’s wood imports for power stations come from the southern US and British Columbia, in both regions, highly bio-diverse and carbon-rich forests are being rapidly clearcut, a trend which will be made worse by the new demand for wood pellets. The wood Pellets which are used at the Drax power station, for example, have been directly linked to the destruction of ancient swamp-forests in North Carolina, one of the world’s most diverse freshwater habitats. Yet the UK Government continues to ignore all of the mounting evidence that large-scale electricity from biomass is bad for the climate, for forests and for communities.

The Government has already announced that they will give greater long-term incentives to burning millions of tonnes of wood in power stations than to onshore wind and solar PV, both of which have a fraction of the land and carbon footprint of big biomass. Now the Government are consulting on proposals to further advantage biomass ‘combined heat and power’ (CHP) plants (and possibly coal-to-biomass conversions) as a ‘less established technology’, whereas onshore wind and solar PV will be considered “more established”.

While most people associate biomass CHP with small-scale, efficient district heating systems, this is not what’s being promoted here. The ‘CHP’ plants which the subsidy rules favour are big, centralised power stations with just 35% efficiency (i.e. wasting almost two out of every three trees cut down entirely), which use a very minimum amount of heat, possibly even for drying their own pellets or woodchips. Three large and import-reliant power stations have already been approved as ‘CHP’ with no credible plan for delivering heat whatsoever!

The UK Government’s proposed Biomass subsidies would be in direct contradiction to the advice to national Governments issued by the United Nations Environment Programme which has called for the phase out of biofuel subsidies and end to targets for Biomass projects.

The just released UNEP report “Assessing Global Land Use: Balancing Consumption with Sustainable Supply is available here:

You can read the full briefing on the new Contracts for Difference scheme here

You can respond to the Government’s current consultation by taking part in this alert before the 15th February here

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