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Ex-environment secretary laments missed EfW opportunity

Former environment secretary Owen Paterson has called for more investment in energy-from-waste technology - while insisting the Climate Change Act be suspended.

Owen Paterson

The positive note on the technology was struck in a wide-ranging speech to the Global Warming Policy Foundation, a think tank sceptical to the concept of man-made climate change: “Waste to energy is the one renewable technology we should be investing more in. It is a missed opportunity.”

Paterson also called for the increased use of anaerobic digestion (AD) to provide renewable energy as the UK pushes for “virtually” zero carbon emissions in its electricity production process.

He said: “We don’t do enough AD of sewage; we should be using AD plants to convert into energy more of the annual 15 million tonnes of food waste. But this can only ever provide a small part of the power we need.”

Paterson also took aim at the use of biomass fuel, especially the import of wood pellets to fuel industrial burners.

“It generates more CO2 per unit of energy even than coal,” Paterson said. “Even Decc admits that importing wood pellets from North America to turn into hugely expensive electricity here makes no sense if only because a good proportion of those pellets are coming from whole trees.

“The fact that trees can re-grow is of little relevance: they take decades to replace the carbon released in their combustion, and then they are supposed to be cut down again. If you want to fix carbon by planting trees, then plant trees! Don’t cut them down as well. We are spending ten times as much to cut down North American forests as we are to stop the cutting down of tropical forests.”

In his lecture, Paterson also said he had become increasingly aware of public dissatisfaction with “heavily subsidised renewable technologies, in particular onshore wind.”

“In the short term,” he said, “we have to be realistic and admit that solar, wind and wave are not going to make a significant contribution while biomass does not help at all.”

He continued to say the UK had legally bound itself to EU energy targets for 2050, but is using unproven and expensive technologies to achieve zero carbon electricity. As a result, Paterson said: “The Climate Change Act should be effectively suspended and eventually repealed.”

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