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Coal to biomass conversions to see massive emissions – NGO

Power

16 Dec 2019 06:48

Photo: Shutterstock.com

Photo: Shutterstock.com

London

16 Dec 2019 06:48

(Montel) The planned conversion of coal-fired plants to biomass across Europe will lead to 67m tonnes of CO2 emissions per year, for less than 2% of the EU's power output, environmental campaign group Sandbag said on Monday.  

This corresponds to half of the emissions of Poland’s 44 coal plants (30 GW) and it was unlikely that the CO2 would be reabsorbed by forests quickly enough to meet the objectives of the Paris agreement on climate, the London-based organisation said in a report.

Once converted, plants will produce 64 TWh/yr, which would require the felling of 2,700 km2 of forest each year to get 36m tonnes of wood pellets, “the equivalent to most of the forest in the Netherlands or half of Germany’s Black Forest", it added.

In addition, this would have to be supported by "important public subsidies", according to Sandbag.

European countries currently subsidise biomass for energy or heating output to the tune of USD 7bn/yr (EUR 6.28 bn), according to the US NGO Natural Resources Defense Council, cited in the report.

67 projects
Sandbag based its study on 67 coal-to-biomass projects in Europe, which could increase the biomass consumption in the region, currently 4,200 petajoules (PJ), by 607 PJ per year, it said.

The NGO noted that only ten projects – located mainly in Germany, Finland, Ireland, the Netherlands, Spain and Portugal – would burn more than half of the biomass used.

And two projects in the Netherlands would account for a quarter of biomass consumption alone.

Sandbag gave no timetable for the planned conversions but said that all these countries had committed to phase out coal: Finland by 2029, Germany, the Netherlands, Ireland, and Spain by 2030 and Germany by 2038.

Moreover, "five coal operators – Germany's RWE, EDP Espana, Ireland's ESB Group, Britain's Riverstone and Sweden's Vattenfall – are responsible for over half of all the potential growth in biomass consumption in coal-fired plants".

Call to governments
The organisation called on European governments to focus on low-carbon renewable energies, such as wind or solar energy, and to improve their sustainable policies.

"Projects that do not contribute to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions should be subject to a carbon price and not be able to get subsidies, " it said.

Biomass accounted for around 3% of all power production and 19% of heat production across the EU, according to the report.

In the UK, the portion of biomass in the nation’s power mix was 7.5% in November, while coal-fired generation reached 3.8%. Much of the country’s coal plant fleet has already closed, or converted to biomass and it has become the world’s largest offshore wind market.

Last week, the UK’s most important biomass operator, Drax, said its biomass-fuelled power plants (2 GW) could become “carbon negative” by 2030 by using capture and storage technology. 

Sandbag’s report can be accessed here.

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