DECC and the three monkeys: Energy Department ignores its own evidence on emissions from biomass.

28th June 2016

It’s now been three months since the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) published its chief scientist’s research into the real greenhouse gas emissions from burning forest biomass. And the Government’s reaction to it has been pretty much that of the famous three monkeys: they won’t see the implications, they don’t want to hear about the evidence and they certainly won’t say what their policy reaction to it will be.

DECC’s Bioenergy Emissions and Counterfactual calculator (BEAC) was published in July after nearly two years of research.

It showed that while utilising some forms of biomass (e.g. sawmill residues that would otherwise be burned as a waste) can be a sustainable form of energy, burning roundwood from natural forests in power stations results in high net greenhouse emissions. For example, the burning of pellets produced from additional wood harvested in naturally regenerated hardwood forest in Southern USA results in emissions that are three times higher than burning coal.

It is these “naturally regenerated hardwood forests in Southern USA” where Drax is sourcing the pellets for its biomass boilers.

Preliminary results from this work and its implications were known to DECC since March 2013, when they were presented to a wide stakeholder meeting.  Eighteen months passed before the calculator was finally published and another three months since then. And DECC’s reaction?

Nothing. Nada. Niente. Nichts.

When we asked DECC when they were going to implement the biomass carbon calculator into policy – to ensure that the hundreds of millions of pounds worth of subsidies under the Renewables Obligation and the Contracts for Difference scheme are only awarded to forms of bioenergy that lead to real carbon savings – they told us that they needed to “collect more evidence”.

Which I thought was what they had been doing since they first presented the results 20 months ago.

In the meantime DECC have awarded Drax a Contract for Difference for its biomass boiler worth hundreds of millions of pounds in subsidies without knowing what the real climate impacts of this will be.

In April 2015 DECC plans to bring in mandatory sustainability criteria for biomass. However these will be worthless unless they include a carbon calculator that accounts for changes to the carbon stored in forests in the way the BEAC calculator does.

Otherwise DECC might as well burn the money it pumps into Drax’s boilers banknote by banknote. That presumably also results in “low-carbon energy”.

Ask Ed Davey to end subsidies to high-carbon bioenergy.

Please take action now

To find out more about the BEAC biomass carbon calculator please read our briefing

Blog post written by Kenneth Richter, 5 November 2014