Report warns Government can’t prove biomass industry meets sustainability rules

A new report says the Government cannot show the UK’s biomass industry complies with sustainability requirements.

Public spending watchdog The National Audit Office, (NAO) which issued the report, wants stricter criteria to determine how the Government assesses adherence to sustainability rules.

Biomass involves burning wood or plants to generate heat, electricity or transport fuel, with the sector currently receiving hundreds of millions of pounds in annual support from Government.

The Government classifies biomass as renewable because new trees and plants absorb the carbon dioxide given off when biomass pellets are burned. This entitles the industry to Government financial backing totalling £22bn over the last two decades.

Highlighting the UK’s two largest biomass power stations – Drax’s North Yorkshire plant and Lynemouth Power’s plant in Northumberland – the NAO report wants generators to say where exactly the wood used for burning has come from and explain how that forest is looked after.

The NAO report states: “The Government needs to be confident the [biomass] industry is meeting high standards of sustainability.

“Its current monitoring arrangements rely on a combination of information provided by generators, third-party certification schemes and limited-assurance audit reports.

“DESNZ (The Department for Energy Security and Net Zero) considers this a proportionate approach that provides it sufficient confidence in the credibility of the sustainability criteria for existing schemes.

“But in our view the lack of an evaluation of how effective these arrangements have been, particularly given the long supply chains involved, means the Government cannot demonstrate its current arrangements are adequate to give it confidence industry is meeting sustainability standards.

“The Government must review the assurance arrangements for these schemes, including ensuring it has sufficient resources to give it assurance over the billions of pounds involved.”

A spokesman for The Department for Energy Security and Net Zero responded by saying the NAO’s report had found no evidence of firms not complying with sustainability criteria.

He added: “Biomass will provide a key role in a more secure, clean energy sector. It delivered around 9% of the UK’s total energy supply in 2022, with generators only legally receiving subsidies if they prove they have complied with our strict rules.

“The Climate Change Committee has acknowledged that achieving net zero is dependent on solutions like bioenergy with carbon capture and storage, which will help offset emissions from other industries.”

A Drax power station spokesman said: “We welcome the National Audit Office’s (NAO) report which looks at the Government’s support for biomass.

“The NAO acknowledges the important role that sustainably sourced biomass has to play in addressing the climate crisis and displacing fossil fuels in the production of dispatchable electricity.

“It’s essential that sustainability reporting and criteria are robust and fit for purpose. This was also recognised in the Government’s biomass strategy published last year, which outlined a review which has already begun.

“We fully support that a review process should be carried out and look forward to playing our part and working with Government in this.

“We are committed to ensuring the biomass we source delivers positive outcomes for the climate, for nature and for the communities in which we operate.”