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Biomass Power Plants Worse Than Coal-Fired Power Plants

Ben Webster, The Times

Biomass power plants could be worse for the environment than coal-fired stations, analysis has suggested.

Burning wood from North America in British power stations can result in higher greenhouse emissions than burning coal, a report by David MacKay, the government’s chief scientific adviser on energy, said.

If the wood was left over from trees felled for other purposes, it would result in lower emissions. However, if it came from whole trees, the total emissions — including taking it to a pelleting plant, drying it and shipping it to Britain — could be higher than using coal. This adds to pressure on the government to ensure that cutting emissions by subsidising power stations to switch from coal to wood or other biomass does not have the opposite effect.

Up to 10 per cent of Britain’s electricity could come from biomass by 2020, the Department of Energy says. Electricity-generating companies have said that a large proportion of the biomass they will burn will come from North American forests because Britain does not have enough wood.

Drax, Britain’s largest power station, has already converted one of its six coal-fired boilers to biomass and plans to convert two more. It imports a million tonnes of wood from the US and Canada each year and this is expected to rise to seven million tonnes by 2016.

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