THE GOVERNMENT SHOULD STOP SUBSIDISING BIOMASS
The Breathe Clean Air Group wish to respond to the Call for Evidence on Contracts for Difference (CfDs). We strongly believe that no CfD subsidy should be available for coal-to-biomass conversions, dedicated biomass combined heat and power (CHP) or any other biomass electricity technology.
Locally here in Davyhulme (Trafford, Greater Manchester), the Barton Renewable Energy Plant development, proposed by Peel Energy, is for a combined heat and power plant located in an already over polluted area, breaching legal limits, between densely populated suburbs in Trafford and Salford, also including schools, leisure and retail facilities. It would burn 200,000 tonnes of construction and demolition waste wood, along with Solid Recovered Fuel (plastics etc.). This will produce masses of tiny Particulate Matter, which won’t even be measured, let alone controlled and will have massive ill-health impacts. The proposed plant is likely to emit other toxic chemicals such as heavy metals and dioxins, burning at just 850°C, with the pollutants being emitted from its under-sized chimney stack, passing through an out-dated bag filtration system.
BURNING BIOMASS INCREASES ATMOSPHERIC CARBON DIOXIDE
Biomass electricity is not truly renewable energy and as such, it should not be supported by the UK Government, nor promoted as one of the technologies with which to combat climate change. Available evidence suggests the climate impacts of biomass electricity are severely underestimated and are generally no better than those of the fossil fuels they are meant to replace. Additionally, large-scale biomass electricity has significant and growing negative effects on forests, contributing to deforestation and forest degradation, and thereby loss of biodiversity.
There are multiple studies refuting the assumption that emissions from burning woody biomass can be ignored, as the process is inherently ‘carbon neutral’. Burning whole trees to produce electricity produces a ‘carbon debt’, which will not be repaid for decades, if not centuries. To burn a tree takes minutes; to grow a tree takes 20 years. Biomass burns 3 trees but only 1 is used to produce electricity. It may take centuries to absorb excess carbon dioxide once burning biomass has been stopped.
THE GOVERNMENT MUST TACKLE GLOBAL WARMING NOW
The time for tackling climate change is now. Emissions must be greatly decreased now and continue for the next 30 years in order to have a reasonable chance of avoiding global warming of 1.5 or even 2 degrees C and above. Government Policy must include greatly reduced deforestation, land use change, and reduced fossil fuel burning. Replacing fossil fuel burning with biomass will not achieve emissions reductions on a large scale, no matter how it is accounted for.
BURNING WOOD WASTE AND RESIDUES PRODUCES MORE CO2 THAN BURNING NATURAL GAS
Wood waste and residues are often cited as ‘sustainable’ biomass sources, but there are not sufficient volumes to meet growing biomass electricity developments. Furthermore, a study published by DECC found that in some cases, burning residues produces greater emissions than those from natural gas.
THE GOVERNMENT MUST HELP PROTECT ALL THE WORLD’S FORESTS
UK demand for green wood for electricity was 15.1 million tonnes in 2014/15, and this is expected to rise. This demand is putting growing pressure on natural forests worldwide. The UK is now the world’s largest importer of wood pellets, and a large portion are sourced from the forests of the South-East USA, a region within a biodiversity hotspot which is experiencing very high levels of forest loss and has weak forest protections due to high private ownership. 6.1 million tonnes of wood pellets were exported from this region last year and non-governmental organisation’s investigations have revealed US pellet suppliers Enviva has been clear-cutting wetland forests. Enviva supplies Drax and has agreed to supply Lynemouth and the MGT Power Teesside plant in future.
BURNING BIOMASS PRODUCES HUNDREDS OF TOXIC CHEMICALS WHICH DAMAGE HUMAN HEALTH
Recently the Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment declared that, “Burning 10 lbs. of wood for one hour, releases as much Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) as 6,000 packs of cigarettes.” The UK’s Biofuelwatch says that burning wood emits similar levels of a similar range of pollutants as burning coal. The largest volumes of air pollutants are oxides of nitrogen (NOx), carbon monoxide (CO), small Particulate Matter (PM10 and PM2.5) and sulphur dioxide (SO2) as well as carbon dioxide (CO2). Burning wood also produces antimony, arsenic, cadmium, chromium, copper, dioxins, furans, lead, manganese, mercury, nickel, PAHs, selenium, vanadium and zinc. These toxic chemicals and particulates are said, by many respected researchers and epidemiologists, to result in human asthma, COPD, strokes, heart attacks, cancers and premature death. These conditions cause massive human tragedy as well as huge costs to the NHS.
The storage and processing of wood for the biomass industry presents another human danger, as wood dust is a known carcinogen. Exposure to wood by workers and neighbours of processing plants is known to have caused other health risks including skin disease, allergic and non-allergic respiratory problems as well as nasal problems. The self-ignition of wood storage for biomass plants, and wood dust explosions is commonplace. Between 2008 and 2012, at least 76 accidents involving fires or wood dust explosions, some of them fatal, have been reported by the media. Some wood storage facilities have burnt for days, producing ill-health effects to local communities.
DETRIMENTAL EFFECTS ON WILDLIFE
The destruction of forests has resulted in loss of habitat and death for forest dwelling animals, birds and insects. Particulate matter from wood smoke is believed to have decimated birds in the vicinity of biomass and incineration plants. Should a shipment of wood pellets sink in the ocean and float to the surface, the effects on marine mammals, fish and aquatic birds by ingestion, could have serious consequences.
SUPPORT CLEAN, NON-CARBON, NON-POLLUTING ENERGY SUCH AS SOLAR, WIND, HYDRO AND TIDAL
The currently high levels of subsidy should be diverted from biomass to non-carbon: solar, wind, hydro and tidal instead. Wind and solar out-perform biomass on almost every metric.
Their life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions are far below those of biomass generated electricity. They require far less land than biomass. Solar and wind are also far cheaper than biomass electricity: a study published last month by the US Natural Resources Defense Council found that even without full accounting for the emissions from biomass, total economic costs for onshore wind and large-scale solar are less than or equivalent to those for biomass (they are far less if full carbon accounting is used). The costs of wind and solar continue to fall to 2025, whereas biomass remains at much the same level. The UK is an island nation with a huge coastline where tides occur twice per day. New developments for hydro energy must be explored, developed and supported.
Biomass power stations emit a similar range and volume of pollutants to coal power stations, whereas wind turbines, solar panels, tidal and hydro equipment operate without causing any pollution.
Please ensure CfDs are given to genuine, non-carbon renewables only, and NOT coal-to-biomass conversions, biomass CHP, or ‘advanced conversion’ of biomass or waste.
Want to get involved and make your views count to this consultation period? Visit Biofuelwatch’s website to submit your response: http://www.biofuelwatch.org.uk/2016/beis-cfd-cons-2016/