Matt Ridley explains why replacing natural gas (or even coal) electrical generation with biomass is an absurd “solution”:
Under the Government’s plan, biomass power stations will soon be burning much more wood than the country can possibly produce. There is a comforting myth out there that biomass imports are mainly waste that would otherwise decompose: peanut husks, olive pips, bark trimmings and the like. Actually, the bulk of the imports are already and will continue to be of wood pellets.
It is instructive to trace these back to their origin. Reporters for The Wall Street Journal recently found that the two pelleting plants established in the southern US specifically to supply Drax are not just taking waste or logs from thinned forest, but also taking logs from cleared forest, including swamp woodlands in North Carolina cleared by “shovel-logging” with giant bulldozers (running on diesel). Local environmentalists are up in arms.
The logs are taken to the pelleting plants where they are dried, chopped and pelleted, in an industrial process that emits lots of carbon dioxide and pollutants. They are then trucked (more diesel) to ports, loaded on ships (diesel again), offloaded at the Humber on to (yet more diesel) trains, 40 of which arrive at Drax each day.
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Over 20 or 40 years, study after study shows that wood burning is far worse than gas, and worse even than coal, in terms of its greenhouse gas emissions. The effect on forest soil, especially if it is peaty, only exacerbates the disparity. The peat dries out and oxidises.
Yet the Government persists in regarding biomass burning as zero-carbon and therefore deserving of subsidy. It does so by the Orwellian feat of defining sustainability as a 60 per cent reduction in emissions from fossil fuels. As Calor Gas puts it: “This is a logical somersault too far, conveniently — for the sake of cherry-picking the technology — equating 40 per cent to 0 per cent.” (Calor Gas supplies rural gas and is understandably miffed at being punitively treated while a higher- carbon rival industry is subsidised. […]) Moreover, unlike gas or coal, you are pinching nature’s lunch when you cut down trees. Unfelled, the trees would feed beetles, woodpeckers, fungi and all sorts of other wildlife when they died, let alone when they lived. Nothing eats coal.
So, compared with gas, the biomass dash is bad for the climate, bad for energy security and dependence on imports, bad for human health, bad for wildlife and very bad for the economy. Apart from that, what’s not to like?