Independent public body the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has warned the UK government that it should end subsidies for firms that burn trees for biomass, reported Sky News. The CCC did, however, support plans to add carbon capture and storage (BECCS) to extant biomass plants.
This would affect companies like Drax, the UK's largest bioenergy provider, which was eligible for £617 million (€548.9m) in government subsidies last year. The firm reported a post-tax profit increase of 50.9% for the same year as energy prices skyrocketed, and has been the subject of strike action, with Unite the Union's Sharon Graham accusing the organisation of "classic corporate greed" due to an "unacceptable" pay offer.
The current round for subsidies expires in 2027, and the CCC warned biomass subsidies must end then.
Bioenergy is too expensive and "even sustainable biomass supplies have significant lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions", the CCC said, in a much broader report about Britain's energy future.
The report acknowledged the subsidy's benefit in helping convert coal power stations to burn biomass instead, and supported the industry years ago when low-carbon power was still costly.
But at this point in time it is "not good value for money for bill-payers, and it's not the right thing for the climate either," Dr David Joffe, the CCC's head of net-zero, told reporters.
The CCC also warned the current system encouraged biomass companies to "run for as many hours as possible rather than operating flexibly in a back-up role" because they are paid the wholesale price, which is linked to gas prices, as well as the subsidies.
The organisation also said the UK should abandon biomass in its current form from around 2030. The government's delayed Biomass Strategy, which was due by the end of 2022, is expected between April and June this year.
The watchdog did, however, support plans to make biomass carbon negative by capturing and burying the emissions under the North Sea in depleted oil or gas fields.
BECCS will play an "important role" in meeting climate targets because it can remove CO2 from the atmosphere while also generating electricity, the CCC said.
The government's reluctance to try to reduce demand, for example via high-polluting sectors like aviation or agriculture, makes carbon removals such as BECCS even more urgent, Dr Joffe told Sky News.