NRDC responds to criticism of ‘Money to Burn II’ report

Environmental advocacy group Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has responded to criticism of its Money to Burn II report, which claimed that solar and wind can reliably supply the UK’s needs for new electricity capacity and is more cost-effective than biomass.

New economic modelling, commissioned by the NRDC and executed by Vivid Economics, claimed that by 2025 (the year by which coal use in power stations is scheduled to be phased out in the UK), even if already installed, biomass plants would be costlier to operate than building new solar and wind capacity from scratch.

Criticising the Money to Burn II when it was unveiled on 13 September, 2017, Benedict McAleenan, head of Biomass UK (part of the Renewable Energy Association), told Bioenergy Insight, that the report was “bizarre”. He added: “Whilst NRDC claims to be pro-renewables, its whole premise is to perpetuate dependence on fossil fuels. Unlike NRDC, we want to see an end to fossil fuels like coal and gas and biomass is demonstrably helping to deliver that.

Responding to this criticism, Sasha Stashwick, senior advocate at the NRDC, told Bioenergy Insight:  “Biomass UK has clearly not read the report. What the economic modelling does is solve for the cheapest mix of technologies to reliably meet electricity demand in the period to 2025 consistent with the United Kingdom’s requirement to meet a declining emissions trajectory.

“The results show that biomass is simply not cost-competitive with true renewables like solar and wind to meet these dual objectives. By 2020, under the “whole system” approach to calculating costs that Benedict McAleenan advocates, biomass will be higher cost than onshore wind and solar. By 2025, even if already installed, biomass would be costlier to operate than building completely new solar and wind capacity. These results are reported using our conservative “Central” projections for levelised technology costs (developed prior to the most recent CfD auction that closed on Monday), which for offshore wind in 2025 were £82/MWh (€93/MWh). The results of this week's auction reveal that offshore wind is now available to the United Kingdom at far lower cost: £57.50/MWh in 2022/2023.

“Further, the modelled results are not uniquely driven by carbon emissions assumptions, as suggested by Mr. McAleenan. They hold true under all three of the biomass carbon emissions scenarios modelled, including Drax’s own emissions figures (122 g/kWh), which significantly underestimate emissions and thus carbon costs.

"The analysis also creates a level playing field with respect to carbon emissions assumptions. Lifecycle emissions are included for all technologies, including onshore wind (20g/kWh), offshore wind (24 g/kWh), and solar (85g/kWh), and natural gas emissions are accounted for in the model in the same way as emissions from biomass, utilizing standard emissions factors for gas generation (~400 g/kWh).”

This story was written by Liz Gyekye, editor at Bioenergy Insight.

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