Biomass ETS ‘loophole’ report slammed by renewables industry

A new study which claims the biomass industry is avoiding up to €1bn in carbon taxes due a "loophole" in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) has been branded "intentionally misleading" by the renewable energy sector.

The study, released today (17 March) by Transport and Environment (T&E), argues that burning biomass – a process labelled ‘carbon-neutral’ in the EU – actually generates between 90-150 million tonnes of CO2, which should be taxed appropriately. This represents up to 7% of all emissions in the ETS on an annual basis, the report states. (Scroll down for full report)

The EU-ETS covers 12,000 plants across Europe and essentially charges power-generators for the amount of CO2 they produce. Reassessing the zero-emissions rating of biomass would allow the EU ETS to better-reflect the net effect of its production and use, with only real emissions savings being allowed to count for zero, the groups claim.

“By closing this loophole, the EU can remove perverse incentives for biomass which emit more carbon than they save and actually help mop up the emissions glut in the EU-ETS,” said EEB bioenergy policy officer Sini Eräjää.


But the biomass industry sees things very differently; dismissing these claims an unfair representation of the impact of biomass which ignores scientific evidence.

A spokesperson for the Renewable Energy Association’s (REA) Back Biomass campaign told edie: “[The report] is at best misinformed and at worst intentionally misleading. It confuses the different issues involved in woody biomass and liquid biofuels, misinterprets standard forestry practice and misrepresents the research undertaken. It also ignores scientific evidence and misses whole swathes of important regulatory debate.

“The report makes no distinction between liquid biofuels, for which land use change can be an issue, and woody biomass, for which it is not. Investing in forestry and woodland partly to produce feedstock for solid biomass energy generation does not lead to land use change because you aren’t replacing woodland with non-woodland.”

Forest management

The report, which was put together by T&E in collaboration with the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) and BirdLife Europe, also puts forwards the argument that it takes years to regrow a tree and there is therefore a delay in re-capturing atmospheric carbon. But the REA says this assertion is also wrong, demonstrating a lack of understanding of forest management.

“The forest is viewed as a whole, with some parts being harvested while the rest grow to ensure either a neutral or positive growth rate,” the spokesperson added. “The United States Government’s own Forest Service recently highlighted exactly this process, noting that wood cover would increase as a result of biomass demand.

The report’s findings were also contested by power generation business Drax, which is currently converting its own operations to become a largely biomass-fuelled generator. A spokesperson for the business told edie that its three converted units save 12 million tonnes of CO2 a year by virtue of not burning fossil fuels.

“The purpose of the ETS is to encourage low-carbon generation, and that’s what biomass is compared to coal,” said the spokesperson. “We also source from forests that are growing all the time, so at the end of the year there is more carbon in there than is released through burning. We see biomass as a win-win. It reduces emissions and we also encourage sustainable forest stewardship.”

Net negative

Earlier in March, Drax penetrated further into the renewable heat market with the acquisition of the UK’s second-largest wood pellet distributor, Billington Bioenergy (BBE). The firm anticipates that the wood pellet market will grow from the current levels of circa 200,000 tonnes in 2013 to more than a million tonnes per annum by 2020, supported by the Government’s Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme.

The Energy Technologies Institute in the UK and the International Panel on Climate Change have both stated in recent months that widespread deployment of biomass generation, combined with Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technology, is the only way to reach net negative emissions.

Biomass report

Biofuels at Sustainability Live 2015 

Fuel made from waste could replace 16% of all the fuel used on European roads by 2030 according to research, but the UK is failing to harness this bioenergy potential. The uptake of biofuels will be discussed in detail at Sustainability Live in April, with a session at the Energy Recovery Theatre examining the opportunities and challenges in converting waste to fuel. 

Find out more and register to attend Sustainability Live 2015 for FREE here. 

Brad Allen & Luke Nicholls

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