England Trees Action Plan omits bioenergy

By Erin Voegele | May 21, 2021

The U.K. Renewable Energy Agency is criticizing the England Trees Action Plan issued by the U.K. government on May 18 for omitting bioenergy, stressing that the omission will likely result in the government failing to meet its ambitions.  

A public consultation document released in mid-2020 addressed energy forestry, which uses fast-growing trees planted and grown on a short rotation to provide biomass for power generation. The consultation document called energy forestry desirable “because biomass is a renewable resource which take carbon back out of the atmosphere through photosynthesis as the plants regrow.” The consultation document also stressed the need for sustainable production of biomass for use in heat and power applications and noted that short-rotation forestry and short-rotation coppice provides a potential opportunity for farmers looking to diversify their business.

While 37 percent of foresters who responded to the public consultation said that establishing energy forest plantations to satisfy future biomass demand for bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECSS) was a top priority, the final action plan released on May 18 does not address energy.

In an analysis of consultation responses, the U.K. Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said that “energy forestry polarizes opinion," and noted those in favor of it want the regulatory position for energy forestry to be clarified. They also said they want better advice for those engaged in energy forestry and more support for supply chain development. Those opposing energy forestry argued that its promotion “is counter to the government’s goals on climate change, as well as the other aims of an action plan on trees, woodland and forestry.”

While the action plan does not address energy forestry, it does set a new target to triple woodland creation rates, and states that the government will allocate £500 million of the £640 million Nature for Climate Fund to trees and woodland between 2020 and 2025.

The REA issued a statement expressing disappointment in the action plan’s omission of bioenergy. “Today’s announcement on funding and a new target for tree planting is welcome, but it can only take us so far,” said Sam Tickle, policy analyst for the REA. “To achieve it, Government needs to recognize the valuable end-uses for forestry and the benefits of active management. One such use is bioenergy, which uses woodland and energy crop feedstocks to produce low carbon energy.

“This end-use was recognized in the initial consultation, which described the ‘important role’ bioenergy can play in greening our electricity and heat systems. It also recognized the option that perennial energy crops can play in diversifying a farmer’s business. This is backed by the Climate Change Committee, which calls for increased planting of energy crops as well as predicting increased demand for bioenergy to get to Net Zero.

“Yet, there is no mention of bioenergy, energy crops or energy forestry in the Government’s England Trees Action Plan. This is despite foresters outlining energy forest plantations and bringing woods into management as two of their top four priorities in the consultation. The Government will not meet its ambitions by excluding key drivers in forestry, and we would remind them that profitable woodlands encourage more woodlands.”