Include agri-food projects in UK RHI extension, say biogas firms

UK biogas firms are urging the UK’s Minister for Business, Energy, and Clean Growth, Kwasi Kwarteng MP, to “take urgent action” and include all eligible renewable heat projects in the extension of the non-domestic renewable heat incentive (RHI), announced in the March 2020 budget.

Agri-food renewable energy projects have been excluded from the RHI extension, despite the apparent success of existing biogas plants on food processing sites under the scheme.

Richard Gueterbock, director of Foodchains, an agri-food innovation advisor and bioenergy promoter, said: “Commercially viable low-carbon, shovel-ready projects that fall below the non-domestic RHI tariff guarantee threshold (600 kW thermal for biogas) have been hit by COVID-19-related planning delays and supply issues and visit restrictions.

“This unfair exclusion means that a number of clean heat projects, with insufficient time to complete by 31 March 2021, could be abandoned.”

Green investments on processing sites will decarbonise the supply chain while boosting local economies, creating green jobs and new skills, according to Foodchains, but capital costs, complex technology, and development risks for industrial decarbonisation cannot be carried by business alone.

The firm says the RHI is “essential” for innovation in the supply of low-carbon industrial heat at the required scale and pace. Existing biogas plants on food processing sites have benefited from the RHI scheme and biogas has helped to reduce carbon emissions by around 30% on some sites.

“Losing cost-effective industrial projects will undermine UK reduction targets and delay the transition to renewable energy,” added Gueterbock. “During the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a significant but temporary decline in atmospheric emissions across Europe. For this reason, industrial renewable heat projects must be part of government ambition to ‘build back better’.

“We need the Energy Minister to take urgent action to reverse the unfair exclusion of smaller projects of the RHI COVID-19 extension. Without green investments such as these projects, there will be a gaping hole in government plans for carbon net-zero, which would be hugely embarrassing, as the UK is hosting the COP 26 Global Climate Change Conference at the end of 2021.”

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