Angus MacDonald MSP Welcomes Scottish Government Calls for Biomass Rethink

Falkirk East MSP Angus MacDonald has welcomed calls by the Scottish Government’s Energy Minister Fergus Ewing to abandon subsidies for large-scale woody biomass plants which produce electricity only. The call comes as an application by Forth Energy to build a massive 100MW biomass plant in Grangemouth docks is still going through the planning process, with a public enquiry expected following the decision by Falkirk Council’s Planning Committee not to support the application.

Mr Ewing will meet the UK Government's Minister for Energy and Climate Change Charles Hendry tomorrow, and host a meeting with bioenergy stakeholders.

He will urge Mr Hendry to follow the Scottish Government's lead and abandon subsidy for large-scale woody biomass in plants which produce electricity only.

Earlier this month the Scottish Government published a consultation which proposed removing all subsidy from large-scale woody biomass electricity plants.

The Scottish Government supports the deployment of woody biomass in heat-only or combined heat and power plants, particularly off gas-grid, on a small scale which maximises the use of heat and local supply chains.

But large-scale electricity-only biomass is inefficient and requires more wood than the UK can produce. Although current plans are to import wood, there is no guarantee biomass plant operators will look exclusively abroad for their wood, and the overseas supply may not be stable or secure. Forth Energy have already advised that they would require to import biomass material from North and South America and Russia to feed the Grangemouth plant.

The current subsidy means biomass providers will be able to afford more than the current market rate for wood, and may push prices up, pricing out traditional wood industries such as sawmills, wood panel mills, furniture manufacturers and construction.

Welcoming the SNP Government Minister’s intervention, Falkirk East MSP Angus MacDonald, who originally moved against the Forth Energy application when he was a Member of the Council’s Planning Committee said:

“The call by the Scottish Energy Minister Fergus Ewing to scrap subsidies for massive biomass plants is a welcome move.

“Scotland simply does not have the capacity to supply a bio-mass energy plant of the size proposed for Grangemouth. Forth Energy have admitted that the wood is to be imported from North and South America, the Baltic states and Russia – hardly locally sourced. This is as far from locally sustainable as you can get.

“I am also concerned that air quality in Grangemouth may worsen if the plant gets the go-ahead. In addition, experts say the plant could take 30 to 40 years to become carbon neutral.

“Furthermore, a great deal is being made by Forth Energy of their plan to distribute heat to local users, which is one of their main selling points in their pitch to Government, however I know for a fact that provisional talks with major commercial operators in Grangemouth have come to nothing to date, therefore a main plank of the application is based on a false assumption and is therefore fundamentally flawed.

Angus MacDonald MSP continued:

“Earlier this month the Scottish Government published a consultation which proposed removing all subsidy from large-scale woody biomass electricity plants. I would urge any constituents who have a view on the Scottish Government’s stance to contribute to the consultation at:

Energy Minister Fergus Ewing said:

"I have grave concerns about the UK Government's ambition for biomass electricity. Large-scale woody biomass used for electricity generation is much less efficient than smaller scale neighbourhood plants.

"Huge electricity-only biomass plants require vast quantities of wood - far more than the UK can provide. Even if every stick of wood grown commercially in the UK went to biomass, it would supply less than a third of the fuel we will require by 2020 if the UK Government's plan for biomass goes ahead.

"Large scale electricity-only biomass will make us reliant on overseas timber markets for our energy. Both oil and gas prices have shown us the importance of a secure, local supply, and if we rely too heavily on imported timber there is a risk of energy security problems in the future.

"Extensive use of large scale biomass for electricity only is likely to push up timber prices and risk hundreds of jobs in traditional wood industries.

"That is why I am urging the UK Government to join the Scottish Government in removing subsidies from large-scale biomass electricity generation."

The UK Government's ambitions for large scale biomass electricity will require approximately 37-67 million green tonnes of biomass by 2020. The Forestry Commission's current Softwood Production Forecast for Great Britain estimates an annual average of almost 12 million green tonnes over the five year period 2017 to 2021.

Copyright © Angus MacDonald MSP 2017

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