UK renewable heat projects “at huge risk”, say biomass groups

The UK could see a “vast reduction” in renewable heat projects over the next 12 months and a potential return to fossil fuels if current government proposals are approved, according to the UK Pellet Council and Biomass Heat Works!.

Representatives from the two organisations are urging those supplying to, operating within, or using biomass for domestic or commercial heating, to respond to an open government consultation which potentially suggests having a one-year funding gap, if approved.

The online ‘Future Support for Low Carbon Heat’ consultation being delivered by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy outlines options to replace the renewable heat incentive (RHI) scheme, which closes in March 2021. Proposals include a Clean Heat Grant Scheme whereby biomass heat projects could receive a maximum support grant of £4,000 (€4,422).

According to the UK Pellet Council and Biomass Heat Works!, if approved, the new scheme is earmarked to come into effect from April 2022, meaning new renewable heat installation projects between 2021 and 2022 could be “at huge risk” and the market could collapse if little-to-no financial incentive is available for customers. The groups say this would also lead to a loss of jobs and investment at this critical time.

“If the consultation proposals go ahead, it would mean that biomass could play a very minor, limited role in future heat decarbonisation strategy and wider net-zero discussions, which as part of any future heat technologies mix, simply does not make sense,” said Mark Lebus, chairman of the UK Pellet Council.

“Biomass is widely and successfully used in remote, rural and off-gas grid areas because it is the most suitable and proven option available, so to potentially look to minimise its role when simultaneously trying to meet carbon reduction targets and create sustainable woodlands, seems way off the mark.

“We’re talking about biomass as the waste part of the tree, the unwanted residue, but it plays a significant part in a circular economy, namely from forestry management to wood pellet production, through to renewable heating installation and supply.”

Lebus added that the renewable heat industry is separate to the larger industrial sector that feeds power stations, and should not be confused with it, stressing that biomass heat has localised benefits. “We support over 46,000 jobs,” added Lebus, “the vast majority in rural locations, 700+ supply chain companies, and have enabled the government to address heat decarbonisation as part of the RHI in challenging areas.

“While I acknowledge that the consultation is still ongoing, I urge those whose businesses, jobs, households or communities benefit from biomass in some way to offer their opinions as we could see a vast reduction in renewable heat projects over the next 12 months and beyond, and a potential return to fossil fuel for many.”

The Future Support for Low Carbon Heat consultation is open until 11.45pm on 7 July.

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