Green groups angered as biomass plant approved

Wood-burning plant in Wales to create 700 jobs, but critics say bioenergy drive is based on false belief that it is carbon-neutral

Holyhead, Wales

Holyhead, Wales, where the biomass plant is due to be built. Photograph: Richard Klune/Corbis

The government has given the go-ahead to a huge wood-burning plant which it claims will provide power for a quarter of all Welsh homes, sparking outrage among green campaigners who fear British forests could eventually be lost.

Charles Hendry, the energy minister, said the 300MW power station on the coast of Anglesey would provide a “secure, flexible and renewable source of power” while creating hundreds of jobs. The Holyhead biomass facility would help Britain meet its renewable energy targets.

But Friends of the Earth argues this is just the first of a huge number of new schemes which could create as many environmental problems as they cure.

“If demand rises for wood it could push up prices a lot and potentially this could represent a danger even for British woodland – especially if more of it is privatised,” said Kenneth Richter, biofuels campaigner at Friends of the Earth.

His colleague, Gareth Clubb, a director of FoE Cymru, said the project by Anglesey Aluminium Metal Renewables, which will partly be funded by public subsidies under the Renewable Obligation, was “pie in the sky”. The plan to source 200,000 tonnes a year of energy crops from local farms as well as importing more than 2.4m tonnes of wood from abroad was not sustainable, he said.

“This is absolute lunacy. One-third of Anglesey, which is used to produce food, would be have to be turned over to biomass crops. Burning wood or crops to make electricity does not make sense anyway because it is very inefficient and it raises the possibility of a worldwide rush to hack down indigenous forest with all the impact of that on biodiversity and ecosystems,” he added.

The concerns were expressed as a draft report by a panel of 19 top European scientists, who expressed scepticism about the wider carbon advantages of biomass and biofuels, known collectively as bioenergy.

“It is widely assumed that bioenergy is inherently carbon-neutral. However this assumption is flawed,” said the scientific committee of the European Environment Agency in the report seen by Reuters. “The potential consequences of this bioenergy accounting error is enormous.”

A second recent report undertaken by the RSPB wildlife group estimated that almost 40 new biomass schemes were in various stages of planning in the UK alone, with an explosion of similar projects expected all over the world.

Friends of the Earth and the RSPB want the government to scale down its Renewable Obligation subsidy regime for biomass, saying ministers should concentrate on encouraging wind and solar power.

It is not just green groups who oppose the bioenergy drive. The wood timber industry says prices have already shot up by 50% over the past three years as energy companies seek out new supplies for their biomass plants. The industry say timber factories in Britain are now threatened by closure.

But the government insists that “there is an urgent need for a diverse mix of new energy infrastructure” in order to maintain energy security and dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The Holyhead plant would create 600 construction jobs and 100 full-time operating posts.

The Guardian

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