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Back Biomass campaign letter response to Economist articles





Biomass, the fourth most abundant fuel on our planet, offers a low-carbon alternative to fossil fuels and incentivises active forest management, which translates to increased tree volumes. It is therefore disappointing to see two articles in The Economist (“Bonfire of the Subsidies” and “The fuel of the future”, 6th April) claiming that biomass is environmentally unsustainable and raises wood prices. Neither claim is true.


Contrary to your leader, the biomass sector claims to be low-carbon, rather than necessarily “carbon neutral”. From April 2014, the UK Government’s world-leading ‘Sustainability Criteria’ will make subsidies dependent on generators demonstrating at least a 60% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, compared to the EU fossil grid average. Some generators already achieve 80% cuts. Your article ignores the fact that this test applies to lifecycle emissions across the entire supply chain (including processing and transport), and instead relies on the widely discredited methodology of Tim Searchinger, whose misinterpretation and misuse of data prompted direct refutation from the UK Government.


The biomass sector draws its feedstock from marginal materials such as forestry thinnings, residues (such as sawdust and bark) and less marketable wood. Unable to compete on price with buyers of high-quality wood, it takes materials that other industries leave behind. Far from competing for supply, biomass incentivises growth in forestry while other industries (such as some construction and paper materials that also use similar forestry products) dwindle – as your article indeed points out. Without this demand, forests lie fallow or, in worst cases, are sold for development. UK wood supplies actually grew by 7% from 2007 to 2010 as a result of many factors, including the growth in biomass demand, while wood prices dropped 15% in real terms between 1996 and 2011.


Biomass is one of very few cost-competitive, rapidly deployable, low-carbon renewable energy sources able to offer reliable electricity on demand. It has a vital role to play in helping deliver the UK’s and Europe’s renewable energy targets.


Yours sincerely,

The Secretariat of the Back Biomass Campaign.