Biomass burning is a climate cul de sac
The proposed shift by some European governments, including Ireland, towards biomass burning as coal and peat power stations are phased out is a serious mistake, as it does nothing to address climate change while posing threats to global forests, according to a major new study (1).
An Taisce strongly supports the report just issued by Sandbag, a European NGO, which calls for an end to all subsidies for biomass, as well as bringing in much tighter sustainability controls. Policy needs instead to focus on support on renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar, which deliver real carbon and cost savings.
Far from reducing GHG emissions, as was initially thought, burning biomass instead of coal or peat in large power stations such as the ESB’s Moneypoint plant in Clare is likely to be accelerating rather than mitigating climate change, according to the report ‘Playing With Fire’, the findings of which are endorsed by An Taisce.
Worse, under the current EU renewable energy directive, biomass is still included in the definition of a renewable ‘carbon-neutral’ source, and is thus eligible for subsidies as well as being exempted from CO2 emissions charges under the EU ETS.
European countries are wasting €7 billion a year on subsidies for the burning of wood for power or heat, a notoriously dirty source of energy that the EU has allowed to be counted as ‘clean energy’ – according to a recent report by the Natural Resources Defense Council.
The Sandbag report (1) identifies five European countries – Ireland, Finland, Spain, Germany and the Netherlands where some 10 proposed large-scale biomass projects are being considered. In Ireland, the identified biomass growth in coal power stations is from the proposed conversion of ESB Group’s Moneypoint hard-coal power station and Bord na Móna’s Edenderry peat-fired power plant.
Ireland’s draft National Energy & Climate Plan (NECP) points to between 181-355MW of biomass co-firing by 2030 (versus around 50MW at present). Proposed peat-to-biomass conversions at the Lough Ree and West Offaly power stations have been scrapped with the power stations due to close instead.
“Burning forests as a solution to climate change is as ridiculous as it sounds”, according to An Taisce’s spokesperson. “There is already overwhelming scientific evidence to show that this makes no sense at any scale above local use. If the Irish government is in any way serious about meeting our climate obligations, it must amend the NECP to exclude biomass burning or co-burning entirely” (2).
Our semi-State companies must be focused on quickly expanding our indigenous renewable resources, especially wind energy, where Ireland enjoys some of the best wind speeds in Europe. “Biomass is a climate cul-de-sac. Between 2010 and 2016, Bord na Móna imported over 150,000 tonnes of palm kernel shells from Indonesia to co-burn at the Edenderry plant. This is the very definition of unsustainable, as is cutting down forests and shipping them to be burned in European power plants while pretending this is somehow ‘clean’ energy”, the spokesperson added.
John Gibbons, PRO, An Taisce Climate Committee (+353-87-2332689)
Charles Moore, Senior Energy & Policy Analyst, Sandbag Email: email@example.com Tel: (+44) 77 5335 2469
(1) Playing With Fire: An assessment of company plans to burn biomass in EU coal power stations https://sandbag.org.uk/project/playing-with-fire/ (2) https://www.climatechange.ie/an-taisce-response-to-bord-na-mona-statement-on-importation-of-australian-biomass/
An Taisce Notes:
In emissions terms, “efficiency” as between different energy conversion processes (e.g. electricity generation vs CHP) is irrelevant if the question at hand is substituting bioenergy for fossil fuels in “the same” process (i.e., if the conversion efficiency for both bioenergy and fossil fuels is more or less the same).
However, there is a different, and legitimate, question about whether certain energy uses should be prioritised for bioenergy. Bioenergy is one of the few things we do that removes CO2 from the air; but at the moment, we just send that CO2 straight back up again on combustion. But if we employed bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) then the CO2 could be more or less permanently removed from the atmosphere.
Ideally we should prioritise bioenergy for use with CCS. We don’t yet have CCS deployment at any meaningful scale; but we could at least prioritise any interim investment in bioenergy uses where CCS might be retrofitted in the (near) future. That would mean actually prioritising bioenergy use in power generation over most use in heating and all use in transport.