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APPG: Hayes seeks to reasure investors on biomass


At a recent meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Biomass (on 26/02/2013) the Energy Minister, John Hayes MP, sought to reassure industry representatives that the Government would create certainty for investment in biomass.  Hayes said he wanted to make bioenergy a central part of the country’s renewable energy offer, and renewable energy a central part of the energy mix.


Hayes gave a strong endorsement of biomass describing it as one of the most “predictable and controllable renewables” that can boost energy security during times of tight margin.  The Minister stressed that biomass must be sustainable, cost effective, deliver emissions savings, and avoid unintended consequences.  He said that although discussions are ongoing with other wood industries regarding the impact of biomass, he believes sustainable biomass is fully possible.


The Minister stated his belief that there should have been an Energy Bill of this kind years ago.  He said the UK needs a flexible energy policy to provide for the country’s future needs.  Hayes said bioenergy is central to the Government’s energy strategy; he believes by 2020, 11% of the UK’s primary energy could come from bioenergy without a significant impact on food or the environment.


On costs, Hayes told the APPG he anticipated a future where technologies competed with each other in a price market process to drive down costs.  He said we do need price certainty initially, but over time we will move to a market-based system that would drive down the prices of all technologies.  The Minister said he hoped this more voluntary regulatory approach would bear fruit.  He was appreciative of the argument that scale is crucial to driving down the cost of renewables.


The Minister then took a number of questions.  The first was from Jonathan Scurlock from the NFU about energy crops, to which Hayes said that whatever you argue about this Government, “you cannot say we’ve ducked the energy issue”.  Then, responding to a question from Tony Lewis of Skanska about the withdrawal of support from Defra for three EfW plants worth £217 million of PFI credits, Hayes said he was currently investigating.  The Minister then received two questions from members of the wood panel industry about the sustainability of biomass.  Hayes responded that the scale of afforestation in countries from which the UK imports is huge.  He said sustainability is challenging, but it can be done.


The meeting was also attended by the Secretary of Agriculture for Virginia who said the wood pellet industry will be the biggest agricultural growth market for Virginia, with most coming to the UK.  The meeting was otherwise characterised by Hayes’s phone going off (“It’s the Vatican”) and his attempts to disarm the audience with his charm (‘I’ve been reading Socrates recently’).


The next Biomass APPG meeting will be toward the end of April and will examine the issue of the supply chain.