DEFRA’s biomass strategy eyes big future for the sector

A government report on the future role of biomass in supporting our energy needs has outlined a grand vision for the sector, but has been criticised for being “short on delivery”.

The Biomass Strategy, published on Wednesday (23 May) in conjunction with the Energy White Paper, represents the government’s response to the Biomass Task Force’s report published last year.

The cross-departmental report says “there is significant potential to expand the UK supply of biomass without any detrimental effect on food supplies and in a sustainable manner”.

The DEFRA/dti/Department for Transport report has identified an additional one million dry tonnes of wood per year from woodland and other wood waste products that could be used in biomass units.  It also assumes market forces would deliver an increase in the amount of energy crops grown to meet the UK market – with the potential to use up to a further 350,000 ha of farmland across the UK by 2020. In total, the report estimates the total land availability for biofuel and energy crops to be about 1m ha (2.47m acres), equivalent to 17% of the total UK arable land area.

Oliver Harwood, head of rural economy at the Country Land and Business Association who represented the CLA on the joint Defra/DTI Biomass Implementation Advisory Group, said:  “We are delighted that government has taken our advice that there really is a huge opportunity to develop biomass energy in the UK, while respecting sustainable farming and land use. We worked hard with Ministers and Officials to get the message across, and it is reflected in the Strategy.

But while he praised the commitment to install biomass heating units in public buildings, notably schools and in buildings across the DEFRA estate, he expressed disappointment at the absence of hard targets for delivery on this.

“Overall, this is a Strategy that is long on vision, but short on delivery. Too much remains to be resolved in the Comprehensive Spending Review. Many of the welcome schemes highlighted in the Strategy are now closed, and await further government funding. Too many decisions are left to another day.”