Biomass task force study draws some heat

Farm leaders have said they are disappointed that the Biomass Task Force has rejected the notion of a Renewable Heat Obligation after a year long study.

An obligation would boost the sector by requiring energy suppliers and large scale users to demonstrate that they had substituted renewable heat for fossil-powered heat.

Published on Tuesday (25 Oct), the report said Britain could reduce its carbon emissions by about 3m tonnes/year if more biomass was used to generate heat in the UK.

But the taskforce, which was led by former NFU president Ben Gill, concluded that introducing a Renewable Heat Obligation would be unworkable. It suggested the better way to stimulate biomass is to provide grants for business and other large-scale energy users to install boilers.

The Country Land and Business Association and the NFU said they were disappointed an obligation had been rejected because it would have helped persuade farmers that there was some long-term security in the provision of biomass.

But the report said that to draw up a framework for the legislation would take too long and that with the high cost of oil, biomass heat generation already compares favourably with conventional heat generation.

Instead, the report backed a capital grant system that would fund 40% of capital expenditure needed for a boiler and associated infrastructure for five years. 

NFU deputy president Peter Kendall said the biomass task force had highlighted the poor uptake and barriers to the current domestic industry.  “However, we would like to have seen more emphasis on longer-term projects like plans to replace coal and nuclear power with renewable energy.”

Harsher criticism came form CLA president Mark Hudson who said he was astonished the biomass task force had rejected the Renewable Heat Obligation model. 

“It is a model which has already successfully increased private investment in the electricity sector and which we are confident would incentivise the further development of renewable heat technologies.”

Friends of the Earth’s Katie Elliott followed with a similar sentiment. “The government is struggling to meet its CO2 targets and should be listening to the very businesses and farmers who will be investing in renewable heat An obligation would promote sustainable technologies across the board, which is ultimately what we need.”

Junior DEFRA minister Lord Bach welcomed the report and said he was confident that if farmers were presented with the right contracts they would respond positively to this new market.
Currently heat produced from renewable sources accounts for only 1% of the market.  The report suggests this could be increased to 3% by 2010 and 7% by 2015. 

Energy crops, cereal straw, dead poultry, pig and poultry manure and dairy cattle slurry could account for 57% of a possible carbon saving of 3.9m tonnes if the energy produced were used to generate heat. 

The remainder could come from forestry waste, waste industrial wood, sewage sludge and municipal solid waste. The UK currently generates 5-6m tonnes of wood waste annually of which only 1-1.5m tonnes is utilised.

The report assumes 1m ha of land (including set aside) is generally available for non-food crops. This land could produce up to 8m tonnes of energy crops a year.

Consisting of 42 recommendations the report urges the government to lead the way by replacing conventionally powered boilers in its 50,000 buildings with biomass powered heat generators.

It also recommends amending legislative barriers such as building regulations and “the amendment of the Entry Level Scheme to recognise the biodiversity and other environmental benefits of energy crops”.

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