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ECC Committee hears evidence on bioenergy



The Energy and Climate Change Committee today held an oral evidence session as part of its inquiry into bioenery. The Committee heard from:


•         Harry Huyton, Head of Climate Change, RSPB

•         Dr Raphael Slade, Centre for Energy Policy and Technology, Imperial College

•         Hamish Macleod, Director of Public Affairs, BSW Timber

•         Alastair Kerr, Director General, Wood Panel Industries Federation

•         Dorothy Thompson, CEO, Drax Group plc

•         Todd Bush, Sales and Marketing Director, Green Circle Bioenergy (US Industrial Pellets Association)

•         Marcus Whately, Director, Estover Energy Ltd

•         John Smith, Managing Director, GB Railfreight


The first half of the session primarily focused on decarbonisation, sustainability issues and the relative role of domestic and imported supply of wood and waste for biomass. There were clearly very wide disparities in levels of understanding on the issues amongst the MPs.

Mr Huyton reiterated his support for small-scale biomass but not large scale, which he called “too ambitious” from a sustainability and carbon perspective. The lead interrogator on the Committee was Barry Gardiner who directed a lot of his questions to Huyton to ask his views on the carbon debt and carbon sink argument.

Dr Slade offered a balanced perspective, making the point that the growth-to-drain ratio and carbon cycle works if you are managing forests sustainably. He also emphasised his support for biomass given its cost-effectiveness and the fact it is immediately deployable on a large scale.

Mr Kerr claimed the number of man hours in wood production/construction are far greater than for biomass and was generally critical of biomass.

Dan Byles MP pushed Harry Huyton on the point that it will cost £42billion more a year not to have biomass and said we face a “real, current problem” to ensure lights are on at an affordable price. Byles pushed for an answer of precisely what Huyton was suggesting was an alternative to large-scale biomass.

Dr Slade mentioned Searchinger's “Dirtier than Coal” report and said it was based on an unrealistic assumption and should not be taken seriously.

The second half of the session focused on sustainability, the use of domestic and international fuel supply, and the effect of biomass on the other industries and the wider UK economy. Bioenergy providers were enthusiastic about the technology’s future for energy supply in the UK and its potential broader contributions, and said they were undertaking significant investment in developing the necessary facilities despite a generally underdeveloped supply chain.

Ms Thompson highlighted the construction of significant facilities for bioenergy production by Drax, noting the relative underdevelopment of provision in the field. Mr Smith spoke of what he saw as the opportunities for the rail freight industry as bioenergy replaced coal. Mr Bush described the sourcing process for the fuel used by Drax in its bioenergy plant, arguing that it could be traced to source despite constraints on formal certification.

Both Dorothy Thompson and Todd Bush came under focus on the subject of sustainability and the industry’s use of waste wood.

John Smith was emphatic in his support of biomass, saying it was crucial to the UK railfrieght industry, while Marcus Whately drew a distinction with large-scale projects and asked the Committee to consider a separate incentive regime.