30 October 1998

Bad old days soon to end – trade body

BIG changes putting an end to patchy times in the UKs bio-energy industry are just around the corner, according to trade association British Biogen.

Lengthy discussions with the government are expected to bring a raft of encouraging measures under its Renewable Energy Policy, says BB projects manager Jim Birse. "Things are really changing and the future looks good.

"The target is for 1000MW of new bio-energy capacity installed and fuelled by 125,000ha of energy crops and biomass by 2010.

"On the market side we expect an interim Non Fossil Fuel Obligation 5b with no technology limits, more site flexibility and a better "will secure test" by the end of this year, with a completely new and improved NFFO next year."

MAFF has accepted BBs proposals for a capital grant of 50% of establishment costs and an annual area payment equal to that for current land use, notes Mr Birse.

The argument for capital support is already won and cleared with Brussels as witnessed by the ARBRE project (see opposite), and a locational supplement has boosted the Woodland Grant Scheme to £1000/ha for all land, he adds.

Mr Birse is convinced similar support will soon be available for other bio-energy projects, including smaller-scale non-NFFO schemes and crops besides short rotation coppice.

"The matter of area payments may take a little longer to resolve," he says. "On Arable Area Payment Scheme land there is no problem because under a recent Brussels amendment farmers can set aside up to 100% of their land to grow short rotation coppice and still receive annual payments.

"We are confident that whatever happens under Agenda 2000, energy crops will always receive at least as much annual support as arable crops. We are working hard to ensure this becomes a solid commitment giving farmers the security they need."

On grazing land where there are no annual payments, but where energy crops could provide valuable income on hard-pressed livestock farms, the task is harder, he admits. "But CAP reform may allow annual support for energy crops on any land."

British Biogens annual conference is at Newbury Racecourse, Berks, on Nov 12.