An unusual coalition of environmental charities and the wood industry have jointly written to Government urging strict limits on subsidies for burning wood in power stations as part of the Energy Bill being debated in Parliament this month (May 2013).


The organisations include the RSPB, Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, as well as the Wood Panel Industries Federation, the Confederation of Paper Industries, the UK Forest Products Association and international wood product businesses Egger, Kronospan and Norbord.


Waddling duck


Current Government plans to subsidise biomass electricity could see the sector consuming the equivalent of up to six times the UK’s annual forestry harvest by 2017. The signatories are warning that these plans could have calamitous effects for businesses and the environment.


The green charities are pointing to a growing body of evidence that suggests that burning wood in power stations for electricity alone, as opposed to efficient combined heat and power facilities, can lead to increases in greenhouse gas emissions.  They are also concerned that a large new demand for wood could increase the pressure on woodland wildlife across the world.


Harry Huyton, RSPB Head of Climate Change, said “Government plans to subsidise the burning of vast quantities of wood in power stations in spite of the threats it poses to our climate and to forests across the world are reckless.


“We are appealing to the common sense of MPs debating the Energy Bill and asking them to limit support for electricity from wood and to focus on genuinely green sources of energy instead, such as wind, solar and wave power.”




The wood-using sector is concerned that they won’t be able to compete with subsidised power stations, meaning that they will face rising costs that could threaten their businesses. Currently, approximately 40,000 people are estimated to work for these businesses in the UK.


David Sulman, Executive Director of the UK Forest Products Association said “Forests and woodlands are a unique natural resource providing valuable economic, social and environmental benefits for us all. Burning wood in inefficient large-scale electricity-only power stations, as opposed to efficient combined heat and power plant, squanders this precious resource and puts thousands of jobs in the domestic wood processing sector in jeopardy.”


David Workman, Director General of the Confederation of Paper Industries, said “The paper industry relies on supplies of wood from sustainably managed forests to manufacture pulp. As global demand for wood based products rises it is conceivable that wood could become a scarce resource and we therefore oppose its large scale use as a fuel purely to generate energy.”


Alistair Kerr, Director General of the Wood Panel Industries Federation, said “Wood processing businesses are an essential component of the UK’s transition to the green economy.  Energy companies are being heavily subsidised to burn virgin timber, on which these companies rely.  This could lead to UK wood processors being forced out of the UK, carbon emissions rising, and the cost UK consumers pay for essential wood products rising significantly.”


Download a copy of the RSPB, Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace report Dirtier than Coal?: Why Government plans to subsidise burning trees are bad news for the planet.




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