Support for biomass linked to sustainability

23rd August 2013

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Biomass-fueled electricity plants will have to prove that feedstocks are from sustainable sources and meet tough carbon emissions targets to qualify for subsidies from 2015

Energy minister Greg Barker has unveiled the government’s plans to ensure large biomass and biogas burning plants are using sustainably grown and harvested feedstocks, and are producing 70% fewer greenhouse-gas emissions than fossil-fuelled power stations.

Under the plans, which closely follow those outlined in a consultation last year, energy companies operating biomass plants with a generating capacity of at least 1MW, will not be able to claim for support under the Renewables Obligation (RO) unless they can produce an independent report verifying that the fuel used meets new land-use criteria.

The criteria will be based on the government’s existing timber procurement policy, which requires that wood is sourced from forests that are managed in such a way to minimise harm to ecosystems, protecting, for example, soil, water and biodiversity.

“[There is] an important role for biomass power as part of the UK’s energy mix,” said Barker. “The new criteria will, crucially, ensure that the biomass is delivered in a transparent and sustainable way.”

The new sustainability criteria will be published by the end of the year and generating companies will have to start reporting on their performance from April 2015.

The government also confirmed the carbon intensity ratios that biomass plants will have to achieve to qualify for support under the RO up to 2030. Existing biomass plants, co-firing plants and those converting from burning coal, must produce a maximum of 285kg of CO2 equivalent per MWh from 1 April 2014. Meanwhile, new build dedicated biomass plants will have meet the tighter cap of 240kg/MWh.

From 2020, however, all biomass plants will have the same CO2 intensity targets, regardless of whether they are new build or conversions. From 1 April 2020, emissions must not exceed 200kg/MWh. The limit will tighten further in 2025 to 180kg/MWh.

In a bid to reassure investors, Barker confirmed that there would be no further changes to the sustainability criteria before April 2027.

The government announcement came a week after the closure of the UK’s largest biomass-powered plant. RWE Npower said its Tilbury plant, which converted from burning coal to biomass in 2011, would not be reopening despite previously announced plans to extend operations at the site by 10-12 years by developing full-scale biomass conversion.

The energy company revealed that the proposed project was not economically viable with just RO support. The government confirmed in July that its plans to overhaul the electricity market would not include support for new-build biomass under contracts-for-difference unless they produced both heat and power.

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