The government has committed £13 billion to support wood-burning power stations but a study has found that it is relying on an outdated assumption that they help to combat climate change.
Biomass power plants, which burn wood, receive direct subsidies of more than £1 billion a year, according to an analysis published today by Ember, a climate-change think tank. Next year the three large plants operating in Britain will also benefit from an annual carbon tax break forecast at about £333 million.
Supporters say that the wood pellets burnt by the plants, mostly imported from the United States, are carbon-neutral because trees are replanted.
Wood-burning stations initially release more CO2 from their stacks, per unit of electricity, than the coal equivalents. The growth of new forest should eventually absorb as much carbon as was emitted. However, today’s report says that this process can take centuries, too long to prevent climate change over the coming decades. “The periods during which atmospheric CO2 levels are raised before forest regrowth can reabsorb the excess emissions are incompatible with the urgency of reducing emissions to comply with the objectives enshrined in the Paris Agreement,” the authors write.