Opinion: With the right support biomass has a bright future

New legislation committing the UK to zero carbon emission targets by 2050 means the government needs to find the most proven, sustainable and commercially viable routes to achieving its objectives.

The decarbonisation of heat, particularly in rural areas, needs a clear, effective strategy so that those living, working and operating businesses in off-gas grid communities aren’t left behind their urban counterparts.

See also: Planting more trees can help the environment and your bottom line

Many leading European countries have seen huge success supporting their biomass industries. We, as a fast-growing sector with a well-established supply chain serving rural areas, need the same from our own government.

That’s why the UK Pellet Council and Wood Heat Association is calling on ministers to take heed of recent reports and recognise biomass as the most fit-for-purpose solution to deliver rural heat decarbonisation when the Renewable Heat Incentive ends in 2021.

With support and investment, biomass could massively uplift the rural economy and create new jobs across all areas, including forestry and farming.

The benefits are manifold, from effective woodland management to encouraging sustained year-long work for agricultural contractors (with increased trade during the winter heating season), while farm businesses will be able to rival international competition with lower energy costs.

At the moment, less than half of the UK’s forestry is managed and that’s partly due to its perceived low value.

However, by demonstrating a clear need for wood for biomass – only using the low-value tree parts – we can create a highly sustainable rural economy, good employment opportunities and business growth, better woodland management and ultimately, contribute to 2050 carbon reduction targets.

We can develop a workable circular economy for the UK’s rural sectors, which stems from the fact that a boiler needs biomass fuel for approximately 20 years.

Our “Biomass Heat Work” campaign is therefore asking farmers, residents, businesses, communities and anyone using or associated with the biomass industry to get on board and support our call to action.

Biomass heat is the best way forward to meet government targets and the preferred, most proven and commercially viable option to deliver future savings.

More often than not, it is also the lowest carbon option available to rural homes and businesses, particularly farmers who have been early adopters of the technology.

We could see consumer demand for bioenergy increase from 5.5% in 2020 to 15% in 2032 of total requirements, and create more than 100,000 jobs in predominantly rural areas. Biomass heating should therefore be at the centre of rural economic and energy initiatives.

In the context of a climate emergency, ministers cannot afford to rely on as-yet unproven technologies that are years away from commercialisation.

Biomass is a well-established energy resource in the UK and, while we aren’t clear as to future decarbonisation strategies, now is the time for it to be recognised.

Mark Lebus is chairman of the UK Pellet Council

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