UK government to consult on eligibility of coal-to-biomass in Clean Air Strategy

In the UK government’s recently published 2019 Clean Air Strategy, it outlines plans regarding environmental policy and legislation, including what it describes as the ‘air quality impacts’ of the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme.

The RHI is an initiative intended to encourage the use of biomass boilers in urban areas.

“The government recently consulted on banning new RHI biomass applications installed in urban areas which are on the gas grid and introducing mandatory maintenance checks for those installations already accredited on the RHI and will be responding in due course,” the report states in its executive summary.

“We will consult on making coal to biomass conversions ineligible for future allocation rounds of the contracts for difference scheme.”

The industry was quick to respond, with the Renewable Energy Association (REA) raising concerns over Government’s continued targeting of biomass heating systems.

“The Government’s Clean Air Strategy includes welcome ambitions to bring the UK’s air quality in line with WHO limits. To take this plan forward, Government must now deliver strong sector specific policies that support technologies to address these concerns, while also properly enforcing existing controls such as Clean Air Zones and existing legislation,” said James Court, REA’s director of Policy & External Affairs.

“Critically, future policies must be based on up-to-date evidence that recognises the role bioenergy has to play in both improving air quality and, at the same time, meeting our carbon reduction targets.

“For this reason, it remains concerning that Government continue to target biomass heating systems, while urban air quality problems can be best minimised by focusing on encouraging vehicles powered by electricity or renewable fuels.”

Major energy supplier Drax, who owns the largest decarbonisation project in Europe, provided Bioenergy Insight with a statement on the Clean Air Strategy.

“Biomass power generation is critical to the UK electricity system because it provides low carbon, cost effective power reliably, whatever the weather. Thanks to biomass technology Drax is the biggest renewable electricity generator in the country and the largest decarbonisation project in Europe,” a Drax spokesperson told Bioenergy Insight.

“The use of dry-wood pellets and sophisticated abatement technology means our emissions to air are well within the limits set by the Environment Agency.

“Coal to biomass conversions deliver significant reductions in particulate emissions – around 20% lower for biomass than coal. They also have played an important role in enabling the UK to decarbonise more quickly than any other nation, whilst maintaining security of supply.”

AD industry responds

The anaerobic digestion industry also responded to the Clean Air Strategy, with the Anaerobic Digestion & Bioresources Association’s (ADBA) chief executive Charlotte Morton providing Bioenergy Insight with a statement.

“We welcome the government's new Clean Air Strategy, which recognises AD as an effective treatment for organic waste and as having a key role in avoiding greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with manure storage and waste disposal to landfill,” said Morton.

“ADBA is working closely with our members and the wider AD industry to increase the take-up of low-emission spreading techniques and equipment, which we understand most AD operators are already using, to minimise ammonia emissions from digestate. We therefore welcome the new funding allocated by government for research and innovation in reducing ammonia emissions from agriculture more broadly, which should help reduce the cost of low-emission spreading equipment.

“It's also great to see government stating that recommendations on fertilisers should prioritise the use of organic fertilisers such as those produced through AD, which limit ammonia emissions, GHG emissions, and water pollution and protect sensitive habitats.”

You can read the executive summary here.


This was written by Joshua Heer, junior editor of Bioenergy Insight.

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