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If we are going to burn more wood, who will see the benefits?

champagne fire

The Committee on Climate Change, the government’s advisers on how to achieve its carbon budgets, published a pair of reports yesterday – one on the use of biomass and one on the related subject of land use.  There are some remarkable points made across the two papers, but for the purposes of this post, I’m only going to discuss two.

Firstly, the CCC envisages a huge expansion of the land used for forestry. The plan is that there could be an extra 15,000 km2; in addition, the 80% of broadleaf woodland that is not currently actively managed (i.e. amenity woodland) will be brought under active management (i.e. regularly felled).

Secondly, most of this broadleaf wood is expected to be burnt (because it is of low quality), but the CCC also recommends that the government encourage use of wood in construction. However, it’s clear from the biomass report (p. 9) that the vast majority of our new-found wood resources will become fuel. This of course will produce a significant fall in input prices for operators of biomass-fired power stations.

And will we see a rush of energy companies entering that market to take advantage of the enhanced profits available? Well, perhaps not if the CCC has its way. As they say on p. 15, they think that avoiding lock-in of suboptimal uses of wood means:

Do not provide further policy support (beyond current commitments) to large-scale biomass power plants that are not deployed with CCS technology

Given the massive “parasitic” power consumption of CCS – perhaps 15% of output, but probably more if the output is not used as baseload – the absence of government subsidies almost certainly means that no further biomass power plants will actually ever be built.

Which does look rather make it look like the benefits of the expansion of forestry are going to be delivered mainly to current operators; in other words principally to the massive Drax power station in Yorkshire.

How amusing then to note that one of the board members of the CCC is Rebecca Heaton, Head of Sustainability and Policy at Drax Group.