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A Westminster Hall debate has been scheduled for Tuesday 6 December at 9.30am on the sustainability of burning trees for energy generation in the UK. The subject has been chosen by the Backbench Business Committee, and the debate will be opened by Selaine Saxby MP.

What is bioenergy?

Bioenergy refers to the use of organic material (biomass) to make electricity, heat or fuels. This briefing focuses on biomass used to generate electricity, including prospects for combining this with bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (so-called “power BECCS”).

Most woody biomass sourced for energy is a by-product or residue of forestry operations and forest industry.

There are concerns over whether burning wood for energy can be truly sustainable. Questions have also been raised over the carbon emissions generated by this practice, with many suggesting that current carbon accounting methods don’t accurately reflect the emissions it generates

Additionally, poor forestry practices can result in the loss of habitat, depletion of carbon stocks and removal of old or pristine primary forests. In some regions this impacts the right, lives, livelihoods and cultural values of indigenous people and local communities.

Government policy on bioenergy

The Government has previously said it would publish a new Biomass Strategy in 2022, which has not yet been published. It published a preliminary Biomass policy statement in November 2021. This reaffirmed the Government’s view that biomass has a role to play in delivering net zero. It noted that biomass is a vital but limited resource, and it set out principles to prioritise its use.

The Biomass policy statement said that in future, large-scale biomass electricity generation will need to be equipped with carbon capture and storage (so-called power sector bioenergy with carbon capture and storage, or “power BECCS”) in order to receive Government support. The Government held a consultation on a proposed business model for power BECCS from April to October 2022.

Financial support for biomass-based electricity generation

Biomass-based electricity generation has been incentivised in the UK under the Renewables Obligations (RO), and in Great Britain under the Contracts for Difference (CfD) scheme and the Feed in Tariff (FIT). The supplier-led Smart Export Guarantee (SEG) also includes biomass generation.

The Government has said it only supports sustainable biomass use which can deliver genuine greenhouse gas emissions savings compared to fossil materials.

Ofgem, the energy regulator, is responsible for auditing the sustainability of biomass used by electricity generators which receive Government support.

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