UK sets out draft Clean Air Strategy, singles out domestic biomass

The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has set out its new draft Clean Air Strategy to achieve air pollution goals. So far, the UK has failed to meet its obligations under EU regulation, and fails to meet World Health Organisation standards.

According to the strategy, the government will introduce legislation ‘at the earliest opportunity’ to formalise a framework to address air pollution. However, Labour’s Shadow Environment Secretary Sue Hayman has accused DEFRA of deliberately dragging its feet on new legislation.

The proposed measures include denying support to biomass projects under the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) if the project is in an urban area that is connected to the gas grid. The report added: “the government will conduct a cross-departmental review into the role of biomass in future policy for low carbon electricity and heat, focusing on the air quality impacts.”

London Mayor Sadiq Khan has previously criticised the use of biomass in urban areas and called for more powers to address the problem. Domestic biomass use contributes a significant portion of London’s fine-particle pollution.

DEFRA also says it will consult on making coal-to-biomass power station conversions ineligible for future Contracts for Difference (CfD) auctions. Contracts for Difference are the primary vehicles for the government’s renewable energy funding.

James Court, head of policy and external affairs at the Renewable Energy Association commented on the new strategy: “The Government is right to champion air quality but is misguided in its targeting biomass heating systems. Urban air quality can be best minimised by reducing diesel burning in urban areas and by encouraging walking, cycling, public transport, and vehicles powered by electricity or renewable fuels.”

He added that biomass-fired power stations are externally audited and that excluding them from CfD auctions would be limiting a cheap, new form of energy generation.

The Clean Air Strategy is parallel to three other government initiatives: the Industrial Strategy, the Clean Growth Strategy and the 25 Year Environment Plan.

The government has opened the new strategy for consultation, which will close 22 May 2018.

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