UK Launches Bio-Energy Infrastructure Scheme

£3.5 million programme offers grants to help harvest, store, process and supply biomass for energy production...

Published: 15-Oct-2004

A drive to boost production of biomass – trees and plants used as environment-friendly energy sources – was launched today.

Former farmers’ leader Sir Ben Gill will head a new government-appointed task force to stimulate biomass supply and demand in a bid to help meet renewable energy targets and to boost farming, forestry and the rural economy.

Food and Farming Minister Larry Whitty also unveiled a new £3.5million UK-wide Bio-Energy Infrastructure Scheme offering grants to help harvest, store, process and supply biomass for energy production.

Biomass can be used to produce heat and electricity, using crops such as willow, miscanthus (a tall, woody grass) and woodfuel from forests.

Biomass is an important element in government plans to increase renewable energy sources and cut greenhouse gases – since 2002 the government has given £66million in capital grants for biomass projects, and the government’s Renewables Obligation requires electricity suppliers to obtain 15 per cent of their electricity from renewable sources, including biomass, by 2015.

The task force’s one-year study of biomass will be led by Sir Ben Gill, ex-President of the National Farmers’ Union, with John Roberts, chief executive of United Utilities, and Nick Hartley of OXERA Consulting.

Larry Whitty said:

“We must look to the future in our search for low-carbon energy sources. Biomass energy has the potential to be of huge benefit in terms of combatting climate change, boosting farm diversification and creating more rural jobs.

“Barriers have to be overcome if we are to establish confidence in the industry, and we want to make it easier for producers to get their biomass out of the fields and forests and onto the market, to make it a viable alternative energy source. Ben Gill and his team will help us to address these issues and to maximise the contribution of biomass to our energy goals.”

Sir Ben Gill said:

“I am delighted to have this opportunity to review the biomass sector. Its potential is clear – it can make a huge contribution to important agendas for renewable energy, a critical issue within the climate change issue. But biomass struggles to make progress. With the team, I intend to define why and then look at what needs to be done. This study is about finding solutions and that’s what we intend to deliver.”

Defra has paid farmers £1million since 2001 under the Energy Crops Scheme, which gives grants of up to £1,600 per hectare to support biomass crops production.

The government also published today its response to a Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution (RCEP) report on biomass – www.defra.gov.uk/industrialcrops.

The government agrees with the RCEP that biomass has the potential to provide a significant contribution to the reduction of carbon dioxide levels if substituted for fossil fuel in the generation of heat and electricity. It has the potential to help significantly towards meeting renewables targets in the electricity supply. The government also shares the RCEP’s view that biomass can make an important contribution in the generation of renewable heat and combined heat and power.

Cambridge University has been commissioned to provide data on the economics of energy crops by April 2005.

Notes for Editors

Crops eligible for grants under the Bio-Energy Infrastructure Scheme are woodfuel including sawdust, short rotation coppice (willow or poplar), miscanthus, other grasses and straw.

For more details about the Bio-Energy Infrastructure Scheme go to www.defra.gov.uk/industrialcrops.

The government’s Energy White Paper includes an aim that renewable energy sources should supply 10 per cent of UK electricity by 2010, with an aspiration to double that to 20 per cent by 2020.

The government will have given more than £500million between 2002 and 2008 in capital grants and research and development funding for renewable energy and low-carbon technologies.

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