Ministers warned on biomass energy

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The Government has been urged to make sure subsidies are paid to only “genuinely” low-carbon biomass energy after an assessment showed it could be more polluting than fossil fuels.

Biomass energy comes from burning biological products such as woody pellets made from saw-mill residues and pulpwood, and is expected to contribute to targets to boost renewable energy and cut carbon emissions.

But new calculations from the Department of Energy and Climate Change assessing woody biomass from North America shows that carbon emissions can vary significantly depending on how it is produced.

Some biomass could produce more emissions than gas or even coal, the calculations showed, sparking calls from environmentalists for the Government to rethink its policy of subsidies for the energy source.

Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Davey said: “This calculator shows that, done well, biomass can offer real carbon savings, which is why we are tightening our rules for sustainable biomass. Any producer who doesn’t meet those standards will lose financial support from next year.”

Harry Huyton, the RSPB’s head of climate change, said: “We’re calling on government to act on these findings to ensure their policy only supports genuinely low-carbon bioenergy.”

And Friends of the Earth’s bioenergy campaigner Kenneth Richter said: “Rather than writing blank cheques for firms like Drax the Government must introduce full carbon accounting for bioenergy in the UK.”

But Drax, in North Yorkshire, which is converting three of its generating units to burning biomass in place of coal, said sustainability had always been “absolutely central” to its strategy.