Grants available for biomass heating boilers

The Government is to make available grants for anyone installing biomass heating boilers as one of the recommendations from the biomass task force which published the results of its consultation this week.

The report says that Britain should focus the use of biomass on producing heat as this accounts for 40% of national energy consumption and is the most efficient way of using biomass.

It concludes that biomass could reduce the nation’s carbon emissions by about three million tonnes a year if used for heating alone.

“What many see as tomorrow’s fuel is here today,” said Sir Ben Gill, task force chairman. “We estimate there could be 20 million tonnes of biomass available annually. We have suggested several ways to develop this industry which has a vital role in climate change, sustainable development throughout the country and economic activity in rural areas.”

The government is going to lead by example by delivering on its promise in the 2003 Energy White Paper and installing biomass boilers in all of its own building stock.

“Heat has been the forgotten part of the energy debate – enough waste heat is emitted from our power stations to heat the country one and a half times over – but our findings show that producing heat, either alone or in combined heat and power plants, is by far the most efficient way of using biomass,” Sir Ben added.

In total, the task force makes 42 recommendations including a national 40% grant for anyone installing biomass heating boilers, a strategic plan for the use of energy from biological waste to be drawn up by government, and for the government office of each region to oversee a programme of conversion to biomass heating in public buildings.

However, climate campaigners have criticised the taskforce for failing to recommend the creation of long-term incentives for renewable heat, akin to the renewables obligation in electricity production.

Campaigners say the grants may be helpful in the short-term but businesses and farmers need a long-term framework of support to be willing to invest in biomass technology and plant slow growing crops such as willow.

Oliver Harwood, Head of Rural Economy for the Country Land and Business Association said: “The grants available for renewable heat have in the past been stop-start, and cash limited. The renewables obligation provides a far better model and has successfully increased private investment in the electricity sector. Despite some additional complications, there is no reason why this approach cannot work for heat from biomass, as well as other renewable technologies.”

A private members bill introduced by Mark Lazarowicz MP will have its second reading on November 11th and contains a clause calling for a renewable heat obligation.

Business Development Director for Wood Energy Ltd, Stewart Boyle said: “A renewable heat obligation would allow serious long-term planning and development of this sector. The task force have rejected this option far too prematurely and based on little analysis.”

The report has also come under fire for saying that around one million hectares of land may be available for biomass production. The RSPB has criticised this figure as it will include 470,000 hectares of set-aside land which, the group says, is a crucial habitat for farmland birds and other wildlife.

The monoculture plots of crops such as miscanthus and willow that biomass planting would bring would considerably reduce the benefits for wildlife, the group says.

The RSPB is calling on Defra to carry out a thorough assessment of the likely impact on habitats and wildlife of large scale conversion to biomass crops.

By David Hopkins

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