April 27, 2006

Britain unveils plans to boost biomass sector

By Nigel Hunt

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain announced measures to promote
the production of electricity and heat from biomass on
Thursday, including a capital grant scheme for "green" boilers
and continuing support for energy crops.

"There is enormous potential for biomass to generate
renewable energy to help the environment and to provide another
possible market for our farmers," farm minister Lord Bach said
in a statement.

Biomass, coming from forestry, energy crops and a variety
of materials that might otherwise be treated as waste,
currently generates about 1 percent of Britain's electricity
and provides a similar proportion of heat generation.

Britain is seeking to produce 10 percent of its electricity
from renewable sources such as biomass by 2010 and to double
that proportion by 2020.

Energy minister Malcolm Wicks told a news conference that
biomass could make a significant contribution, although he
noted that "a great proportion" of the 10 percent target for
2010 would come from wind energy.

Lord Bach told the same conference there was scope to
expand the area planted in Britain to energy crops which
currently stands at a meager 3,000 hectares, roughly 0.2
percent of the area sown with wheat.


"There are half-a-million hectares of set-aside land on
which energy crops can be grown," he said.

The main energy crops in Britain are miscanthus, also known
as elephant grass, and willow coppice.

"The importance to farmers at what clearly is a very
difficult time for them is not to be underestimated," the farm
minister said.

Farm incomes in Britain have been falling in recent years
amid declining government subsidies. Energy crops have received
government grants since 2000 although the current scheme was
due to run out at the end of this year.

But the government said on Thursday it would continue to
support energy crops in principle while noting they would form
part of an environmental stewardship review in 2007/08.

A leading renewable energy trade association said measures
such as the new capital grant program would help the biomass
industry but would only have a limited impact, adding the
government's plans were a "missed opportunity."

"The opportunity to deliver real progress in tackling
climate change, lift households out of fuel poverty and create
sustainable jobs in the rural economy is still being
squandered," said Graham Meeks, head of fuels and heat at the
Renewable Energy Association.