While most reports on the publication of the Draft energy Bill have focused on gas, nuclear and carbon capture and storage, the Government’s quiet agenda to push us toward massive reliance on bioenergy has mostly been overlooked.
Their Bioenergy Strategy lays out their vision to have a large proportion of the UK’s energy generated from biomass. In fact if their plans were to reach fruition then we would be burning 80 million tonnes of wood each year. Given that the UK’s wood supply is only around 10 million tonnes, the vast majority of this will be imported from the Americas, Africa and Asia, where demand for biomass is already driving deforestation, land-grabs and the emergence of genetically engineered tree plantations.
Biomass and biofuel are included in the Government’s definition of “renewable energy” in the Energy Bill’s glossary, alongside truly renewable resources such as wind, wave and solar power. However Carbon Trade Watch’s recent Nothing Neutral Here report shows that creative accounting means that the true environmental cost of biomass is not taken into account. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, ‘smokestack’ carbon dioxide emissions from biomass are estimated to be on average 50% higher than those of coal. So much for the Government’s pledge to be moving toward a “low-carbon future”.
This failure to take into account the pollution and other negative impacts of biomass allows for big polluters to use bioenergy as a means to carry on with business as usual while claiming subsidies and greenwashing their operations. All of the Big 6 energy companies are investing in big biomass schemes, either by co-firing with biomass in their existing coal-fired power stations, seeking to build dedicated new biomass power stations or supplying the fuel stock.
Bioenergy should not be considered a renewable resource. Burning any fuel in power stations to produce energy always relies on damaging extractive industries and produces emissions that are harmful to the environment and health. If the Government was serious about a low-carbon, clean and secure energy future, they would stop wasting time tinkering with the existing system and instead move clearly and decisively toward a truly renewable energy infrastructure and make bold and concerted moves to dramatically reduce energy consumption. Until they do, draft Energy Bills such as the one we’ve been presented with are nothing more than hot air.