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UK Puts Biomass Sustainability Criteria in Place

The UK’s Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has announced its new criteria for sustainable biomass production, applicable from April 2015.

From that date, DECC said, the nation’s biomass industry – which it values at over £1 billion (€1.17 billion) in new investment and 3,000 jobs, and which currently accounts for 38 percent of UK renewable energy supply according to DECC’s figures – will lose financial support if it cannot demonstrate that its fuel is sustainable according to the strict new criteria.

DECC predicts that its new rules for woody biomass will produce over 70 percent greenhouse gas savings compared to fossil fuel alternatives. 

Greg Barker, energy and climate change minister, said: “The new criteria will provide the necessary investor certainty and, crucially, ensure that the biomass is delivered in a transparent and sustainable way.” To further address the issue of certainty for the biomass sector, DECC said there would be no further changes to the sustainability criteria before 2027.

Under the new rules, biomass generators of 1 MW and above (covering 98 percent of UK generators, according to DECC’s figures) will have to meet an annual target of 200 kg of CO2 equivalent per MWh by 2020. From 2025 this amount will reduce to 180 kg.

In addition, DECC said, biomass generators of 1MW and above will be required to provide an independent sustainability audit with their annual sustainability report.

Biomass generators with capacities between 50 kW and 1 MW – 2 percent of the UK’s biomass installations, according to DECC – will be required to report against, but not meet, the target. There are no rules for microgeneration (projects <50 kW).

In addition, DECC will cap, at 400 MW, the total new-build dedicated biomass capacity (excluding biomass with CHP and coal to biomass conversions) that can expect grandfathered support under the Renewables Obligation, using a notification process to allocate places within the cap. Applications for priority projects (those that reached financial close by 20 August) are now open, DECC said, while other projects can apply after 11 September.

Sustainable forest management will be based on the government's public timber procurement policy, DECC said. These rules are already in place.

“Today’s announcement will help bring forward transitional biomass technologies such as coal-to-biomass conversions which are one of the quickest and most cost effective ways to help decarbonise the UK’s electricity supply,” DECC said in a statement. 

The Renewable Energy Assocation (REA), which represents the UK’s renewable power, heat and transport sectors, has welcomed the new sustainability criteria. “The criteria will ensure that only projects with strong ecological protections and high carbon savings can be supported under the Renewables Obligation and count towards renewable energy targets,” the trade body said in a statement.

But the REA also urged the government not to withdraw support for new biomass power plant construction under the forthcoming Contracts for Difference (CfD) regime.

“The REA is pleased that government is taking steps to ensure environmental best practice in the use of biomass for heat and power,” the group said. “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.”

Dr. Nina Skorupska, the REA’s chief executive, said, “New biomass plants will only be supported under these schemes if they produce heat as well as power. Combined heat and power (CHP) is an excellent use of the [biomass] 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.”

Lead image: bio power plant with storage of wooden fuel against blue sky, via Shutterstock

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