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Woodlands to heat local buildings

If you go down to the woods today you’re sure for a big surprise — but it has nothing to do with teddy bears and plenty to do with heating local buildings.

A renewable energy study funded by EDF Energy is to analyse the potential of the south east’s woodlands to heat public buildings such as schools, hospitals, nursing homes and public swimming pools.

The Environment Centre (tEC) has secured £5,000 from the company’s green energy fund to establish a viable market for green energy heating systems, powered by locally-sourced wood chip grown in Kent, Surrey and east Sussex.

EDF Energy director for sustainable future Peter Hofman said: “The south east has an enormous forestry resource and the reintroduction of positive woodland management stimulated by demand from a growing wood energy industry would help create new jobs and enhance our local woodlands for life.

“This is an important breakthrough for a lesser established renewable energy technology and offers exciting potential for some of the vast wood reserves within a key part of EDF Energy’s areas of operation. We await the outcome of this work with interest.”

Similar studies in Hampshire and west Sussex this year estimated that 15 megawatts of woodchip heating could be running within five years. This would generate annual wood chip sales of approximately £45,000, bringing 3,000 hectares of woodland back into management and offsetting 8,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions each year.

tEC senior business adviser Duncan East said: “Biomass boilers are not just about cheap, secure, low carbon fuel. Animals and plants in Britain are dependent on a managed style of woodland which has existed here for the last 6,000 years.”

Up to 20% of the south east is made up of woodland that is mostly unmanaged and overgrown, which reduces its biodiversity. Any woodland is theoretically suitable as a source of fuel for the wood energy industry.

East added: “The greatest misconception about biomass fuel is that its dirty, involves chimneys and a lot of cleaning. When people think of a biomass boiler, they think of a man with a shovel stoking a fire. In reality, you add wood once a week; it’s thermostatically controlled and works the same as any other boiler would work.”

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