USIPA, REA criticize Ember report on carbon neutrality of biomass

By Erin Voegele | June 16, 2020

U.K.-based climate think-tank Ember released a report in June that claims the U.K. should abandon the carbon tax break afforded to large biomass power plants. Both the U.S. Industrial Pellet Association and U.K. Renewable Energy Association say the report ignores current science on biomass.

Biomass power plants in the U.K. do not pay for their carbon emissions, according to Ember, because the biomass is considered to be inherently carbon neutral under the EU Emissions Trading System and the U.K. Carbon Price Support. In its report, Ember argues this should not be the case.

The USIPA released a statement on June 15 stressing the Ember report “ignores the leading peer reviewed science on sustainable biomass.”

“As the International Energy Agency has recently stated, ‘the most important climate change mitigation measure is to transform energy and transport systems so that we can leave fossil carbon in the ground. Biomass is a critical technology to achieve this, as it provides the necessary grid stability to support the widespread use of intermittent renewables like offshore wind,’” USIPA said.

According to the USIPA, the IEA has defined forest biomass as renewable if it is harvested from forest that are managed in a way such that there is no loss of productive capacity. This means that growth and harvest cycles can continue indefinitely and capacity to sequester carbon is not diminished.

That is the case in the U.S. Southeast, which is a major supplier of wood pellets to U.K. biomass power plants. The USIPA cites USDA analysis that shows forest stocks in the Southeast have increased by 20 percent over the past two decades and are double what they were in the 1950s.

“The leading science on this is well-established; biomass, when sustainably-produced, significantly lowers carbon emissions for power generation compared to coal,” said Seth Ginther, executive director of the USIPA. “That’s why the use of sustainable biomass is championed by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and other leading scientific bodies including the International Renewable Energy Agency, the European Forest Institute, and the U.S. National Association of University Forest Resource Programs.” 

“While our industry welcomes robust scrutiny and debate on the issues, it’s important for us to recognize and acknowledge that we have reached a tipping point where the overwhelming data, evidence and peer reviewed research points to the fact that sustainable biomass is part of the climate change solution,” Ginther added.

The REA has also spoken out against the report.  “This paper by Ember amounts to a misreading of the science, going against the UN’s IPCC and the U.K.’s CCC, with recommendations that would raise bills for consumers whilst undermining the path to Net Zero,” said Nina Skorupska, chief executive of the REA.

“The carbon accounting rules that govern the renewables sector were reaffirmed just last year by the IPCC, the UN’s climate change body,” Skorupska continued. They’re also endorsed by the U.K.’s independent Committee on Climate Change. They acknowledge the way in which land sector emissions are counted, including the growth and harvesting of biomass, balancing out the stack emissions from biomass power. Removing this approach leads to double accounting of carbon, which is both inaccurate and adds to electricity bills.

“The UK should continue to build on its success with biomass, promoting its world-leading regulations and developing key technologies like BECCS.”

A full copy of the report can be downloaded from the Ember website