Biomass and Bioenergy Wishlist for the next UK Government: Samantha Smith

With the UK General Election just a few weeks away, we asked some of our leading researchers and industry partners what their wishlist would be for the next UK Government. Head of Biomass for The Association for Renewable Energy and Clean Technology (REA) Samantha Smith, shares key policy decisions Biomass UK would like to see the next Government make as quickly as practicable.

Post Election hopes: Biomass UK’s ‘wish list’ for the next Government

As the UK prepares to go to the polls on 4 July, the General Election provides both challenges and opportunities for the biomass industry. With so many time critical energy policies left in limbo – more on those below – there’s a real challenge for the next Government to quickly get to grips with policy and provide the industry with much needed certainty about next steps. Bioenergy wasn’t mentioned in any of the main party manifestos, although further support for Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technologies was committed to by all – a welcome place to start. But as ever, the devil is in the detail. Below, we set out some of the key policy decisions we’d like to see the next Government make as quickly as practicable.

1.    Introduce transitional support arrangements for large-scale biomass generators

The REA was pleased to see and respond to the consultation on transitional arrangements for large-scale biomass generators published earlier this year. Given critical time constraints, a decision on transitional support arrangements needs to be made as soon as practical, after the General Election.

Additional delays could have a significant impact on operations, particularly as many sites are supported under Renewables Obligation (RO) contracts, which begin coming to an end from 2027 – in less than three years’ time. To secure investment, and agree long-term fuel contracts, confirmation of transitional support arrangements are needed as a matter of urgency.

Without transitional support, some generation assets could close, resulting in a significant reduction in biomass generating volumes across the board. As the UK’s second largest producer of low carbon energy, this loss would be significant. It would undermine the UK’s ability to meet decarbonisation targets, as reliance on gas generation would increase, reducing the diversity of the UK’s fuel supply, and critically, disrupting the supply chains needed to see negative emissions realised.

2.    Provide clarity for generators post Renewables Obligation support

Some guarantee of support is also needed for the hundreds of sub-100 MW generators operating in waste wood, landfill gas, and energy from waste (with CHP), not within scope of the above consultation. This includes more than 60 biomass power sites who collectively contribute more than 1100MW of generating capacity in the UK, many of which are suitable for retrofit of carbon capture technology. Similarly, around 87% of landfill gas capacity will be lost in April 2027, with the remainder losing RO support by April 2031. As well as providing renewable electricity, burning methane also delivers an environmental service by converting methane into CO₂.

The lack of policy certainty will result in the industry becoming increasingly short-term in its outlook. It is difficult, if not impossible to take long-term decisions that cost money without any visibility on future operations. This will make sites less likely to invest in improving engines, impacting output (efficiency) and operations (staff). As well as the loss of low carbon electricity, there is the risk of an increase in methane emissions. It’s essential this doesn’t happen.

3.    Publish the consultation on the Cross Sectoral Sustainability Framework

Sustainability is, and must always be, at the very heart of using any bioresources. As part of last year’s Biomass Strategy, government committed to consulting on a new Cross Sectoral Sustainability Framework. We are still waiting for that critical consultation to be published and we’d encourage the next Government to prioritise that as soon as possible.

This will ensure principles are followed across all bioenergy sectors and build public confidence in the industry. The consultation is also important for providing industry with clarity about potential future requirements, necessary for securing long-term investment in sustainable supply chains.

4.    Recognise bioenergy’s role in industrial decarbonisation and deliver a viable negative emissions market

Bioenergy Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) is the most scalable Negative Emissions Technology (NET) today, and is unique in delivering critical negative emissions while also generating electricity. Biomass provides consistent power, complementing other forms of renewable energy, like wind and solar, and ensuring the UK has a continuous, secure energy supply with a mix of technologies in the system. BECCS can maintain this vital generation, while also permanently storing CO₂ in the ground. This is particularly important for hard-to-decarbonise sectors, where carbon removals are the only viable option for meeting Net Zero.

In the UK alone, it’s expected that 60-170 MtCO₂ of engineered removals will be needed per year by 2050 to meet net zero. Even by 2035, we will need around 15-25 MtCO₂ of removals to meet the Sixth Carbon Budget, according to analysis from the Climate Change Committee. BECCS can help deliver these critical removals.

However, the UK is at risk of losing out to more attractive markets, despite having been at the forefront of seeing NETs developed and being the first major economy to set legally binding Net Zero targets. The next Government should progress work on Greenhouse Gas Removals (GGR) business models to establish a viable market for the deployment of negative emission technologies, like BECCS, meet our carbon budgets and net zero targets.

With the right support, BECCS can be deployed commercially and cost effectively, helping us get to Net Zero more quickly. It’s why the Climate Change Committee, International Energy Agency and UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – the world’s leading climate science authorities – all recognise the role BECCS can play in removing carbon from the atmosphere and meeting our net zero targets. But policy needs to support that ambition.

Biomass and BECCS are very much part of the climate solution, but the industry must continue to work hard to ensure that sustainability and transparency remain top priorities, while also challenging misconceptions about bioenergy more generally. We need every tool in the toolbox if we are to meet the challenge of climate change and the delivery of BECCS, using sustainable biomass, has a critical role to play in that. However, we also need the right policy landscape to enable this. The next Government has the opportunity to create that.

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