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Biomass sector dealt double blow

The evolving biomass industry has been dealt a double blow in recent days with a fire at the UK’s largest facility and an energy firm ditching plans for a key plant.

Environmental campaigners seized on the fire at RWE npower’s Tilbury plant in Essex on Monday (27 February) as evidence that biomass plants posed “considerable public safety risks”.

Local fire and rescue services said the blaze involved some of the 4,000 tonnes of fuel in storage cells. The energy firm said all employees had been accounted for.

Friends of the Earth Scotland policy officer Francis Stuart said: “This is the second fire at a woodchip biomass storage facility in the UK in the last six months and is of some concern.

“Clearly power stations that store large amounts of combustible materials on-site pose considerable public safety risks.”

Renewable Energy Association chief executive Gaynor Hartnell defended the process.

“It is disappointing but it is coincidence that it is a biomass facility. Any fuel is going to be combustible,” she said.

The fire came at a bad time for the industry, just days after energy giant Drax axed plans to build a build a 290MW biomass plant on its Selby site in Yorkshire, citing a lack of government support for the sector.

The government is consulting on proposed new bandings for Renewables Obligation Certificates which would see support for dedicated biomass plants drop by 2016.

Ernst & Young director James Barrett-Miles said the move represented “a potentially significant blow to the development of the UK bio-energy sector and the job market, which would have benefitted from new employment opportunities”.

He called for an increase in the level of incentive for biomass energy through the ROC scheme.

Ministers are keen to see the use of biomass grow to help meet challenging renewable energy targets. A UK bioenergy strategy will be published later this month (see box).

Strategy for biomass growth

The Department of Energy and Climate Change is to publish a bioenergy strategy later this month. Its biomass strategy review seeks to address three main issues:

  • The availability of sustainable feedstocks to 2020 and beyond
  • The potential impacts (economic and carbon) of using biomass in the energy sector against alternative uses
  • The possibilities and implications of different uses of biomass feedstocks in the energy sector to 2020 and beyond

DECC said: “Once completed, the strategy will aim to set out a framework for use of bioenergy across heat, electricity and transport in order to achieve the cost effective delivery of our 2020 goals in a way that is consistent with other objectives across the economy and longer term carbon reduction ambitions to 2050.”

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