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REA responds to anti-biomass power report

By Erin Voegele | November 19, 2012

The Renewable Energy Association has responded to a report published by RSPB, Friends of the Earth, and Greenpeace that claims biomass power is more polluting than coal-fired power. The report, titled “Dirtier than coal? Why Government plans to subsidise burning trees are bad news for the planet,” essentially argues that that EU policy is flawed in that it considers biomass to be free of direct carbon emissions. The groups call for an end to biomass subsidies and a comprehensive accounting system that includes what they define as “carbon debt” and indirect emissions from product substitution.

In a response to the report, Paul Thompson, head of policy at the REA, pointed out several flaws in the way it addresses carbon.   

"Even when we factor in the biomass supply chain, which includes shipping and processing, its carbon footprint is dwarfed by coal. This is a key part of the criteria the government uses to regulate the industry,” Thompson said. “It’s also wrong to claim that biomass leads to ‘carbon debt’. This argument ignores a number of realities about how forests are managed and the types of wood and crops that produce biomass feedstock. With sustainable forestry and the use of a mixture of biomass sources, carbon debt can be avoided altogether. Many forests around the world are actually in carbon credit as a result of better management linked to biomass energy use. In fact, biomass goes hand-in-hand with sustainable forestry practices that have contributed to a global rise in forest cover over the past 20 years. It’s a renewable fuel source that outperforms fossil fuels on a host of measurable benefits.”

In a fact sheet accompanying the response, the REA stresses that when biomass is burned, the carbon that is released has only been sequestered for the lifetime of that plant. When biomass cultivation is sustainably managed, the same amount of carbon is reabsorbed by new plant growth, keeping levels stable. Coal, on the other hand, releases emission that would have otherwise stayed locked underground.

The REA also points out that all biomass used for heat and power in the U.K. saves at least 60 percent carbon across the entire supply chain when compared to fossil fuels. In addition, the REA said that the energy industry is able to use a wide range of wood to generate power, and that it does not necessary compete directly with other sectors that use wood, such as furniture makers or the construction industry.

The REA’s complete response is available on its website