Last year, the RSPB, Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace published a report, called Dirtier than coal?, that shone a light on some evidence that the biomass industry would prefer was kept hidden.
We revealed two important facts:
Firstly, government plans to support the conversion of coal plants would mean that by 2017 the UK will be burning 30m tonnes of biomass, most of which will be wood. To give you a sense of proportion, this is about six times the entire UK wood harvest. It will mostly be in coal power stations that are being switched over to biomass.
Secondly, burning wood from whole trees results in higher greenhouse gas emissions than coal. For example, the government’s own research has shown that using wood from whole UK conifers results in an increase in emissions of 49% compared with coal.
Since then, the evidence has continued to stack up. Last month, the European Commission’s science department published a major review that showed that while energy crops, residues, and wastes can be low carbon, wood from whole trees is worse than fossil fuels. What’s more, existing industries that depend on wood to make furniture, wood panels, houses, and suchlike, have also begun to get extremely concerned about the impact of this enormous new source of demand, warning against the “reckless” pursuit of bioenergy. Using wood in these industries is better for the climate as it keeps carbon locked up, while burning it puts it up in smoke and into the atmosphere.
We’ve worked hard to raise these issues with the industry, government and the public, so it was disappointing to be accused of “scaremongering” this week. The claim was inspired by a letter we received recently from the industry association that represents biomass electricity generators, the REA, which accuses us of “spreading misinformation”. By this, they presumably mean quoting government research and a large body of peer-reviewed literature.