Environmentalists cast doubt on 'greenness' of biomass energy

Environmentalists claim biomass energy is not as a green as it might appear. Photo: Tim Hopkinson
Environmentalists claim biomass energy is not as a green as it might appear. Photo: Tim Hopkinson

The number of power plants burning trees or plant material to generate renewable energy has trebled in the past four years.

Analysis by the JPIMedia Data Unit has found that the energy produced is enough to power an estimated 7.4 million homes.

But environmentalists claim biomass energy isn’t as green as it appears.

Unlike other forms of green energy, biomass plants produce greenhouse gases.

Across the country, the rise in biomass means its total greenhouse gas emissions have nearly reached the amount produced by coal. 

The industry says wood is sourced from renewable forests, with new trees being planted which store carbon and help to offset the emissions produced.

But environmental campaigners are calling for the practice to come under more scrutiny.

Almuth Ernsting, of the pressure group Biofuelwatch, said: “For the climate, electricity from forest biomass is no better than electricity from coal.. 

“Both are completely incompatible with the need to rapidly reduce carbon emissions.”

But Benedict McAleenan, senior advisor to the Renewable Energy Association, responded: “Pretending that biomass is somehow no better than coal means ignoring a whole host of facts. 

“It particularly misunderstands the way forestry works, ignores the important role of regulations and forgets the fact that trees are being regrown all the time.

“In reality, UK rules are world-leading and prevent unsustainable practices.”

Mr McAleenan added that technology being developed called Carbon Capture and Storage would allow biomass plants to “suck carbon out of the atmosphere”, reducing the emissions they produce.

He said it would not be possible for the UK to hit net zero-carbon without using bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage.

The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) said the Government has mandatory sustainability criteria for biomass sites.

A spokesman said: “Sustainable bioenergy is further boosting our energy security and keeping costs down for consumers, as we work towards our legally-binding net zero emissions goal by 2050.”