Speaking to ministers at a Private Members’ debate at Westminster Hall, Adams argued that investment in anaerobic digestion (AD) was needed now as multiple coal-fired power stations were closing due to EU regulations and because the new nuclear power station approved at Hinkley yesterday would take years before it began generating power.

Adams’ constituency in Selby and Ainsty is home to two of the biggest coal-fuelled power stations in the UK, Drax and Eggborough, whose owners both have plans to convert their plants into biomass facilities.

Drax’s plans involve converting three of its six units into biogas, turning the North Yorkshire coal-fired power station into one of the largest renewable energy plants in Europe. 

Adams said it was important these conversions were welcomed because it would help the UK meet its EU renewable targets. He argued biomass was low cost, low carbon and not dependent on the British weather, unlike renewable sources such as wind and solar power.

While he was quick to acknowledge that biomass was low carbon and not actually zero carbon he insisted that the technology was “urgently needed to bridge the energy capacity gap.”

Critics of biomass have argued that shipping wood from abroad to feed the converted power stations would increase carbon emissions and that because growing a forest takes far longer than burning one, a ‘carbon debt’ could be incurred.

However, Adams argued that wood would only be harvested from sustainably grown forests which absorbed more CO2 than conventional forests and that the 500 million tonnes harvested each year in the Northern US was more than enough to meet the Drax and Eggborough demand of 15 million tonnes a year.

MPs also pointed out that the UK was “playing catch-up” when it came to jobs in the AD industry with only 2,000 employed in the UK compared with 68,000 in Germany.

In addition, proponents of the renewable energy source, which is the largest in the world, claim that shipping wood from the US is not as carbon intensive as road freight and that the biomass industry was sustainable because it relied on wood that other industries did not use, such as residue and offcuts.

Conor McGlone

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie