Back in November 2020, the Government announced that they would be gathering evidence for a Biomass Strategy that would be published in 2022. Considering we are trying to fend off a Climate Emergency, this did seem like a long lead in time with a distinct lack of urgency. Of course, there was a global pandemic to deal with but since then we have had COP26 and COP27, the Ukraine war, energy price hikes and the Cost-of-Living Crisis. All of these events should be crystallising mindsets into producing a workable policy framework that incentivises the production of home-grown biomass. Unfortunately, the long-awaited strategy seems to have been kicked down the road a few more months. The Government announced last week that it will now be published in the second quarter of 2023. This is disappointing and for many in the sector will be highly frustrating.
HOWEVER, I have been involved with biomass crops for nearly 30 years, so I have seen many biomass and bioenergy strategies in my time. Usually, these have over promised and under delivered. Therefore, in some ways it might be a good sign that Government departments are taking their time to understand the intricacies and complexities of the many different biomass feedstocks. Several schemes in the past fell foul of a fundamental lack of understanding – launched with much fanfare and huge aspirations but fatally flawed from the outset. Time and again this led to thwarted ambition.
Patience will also be required regarding the review of the Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS). Farmers and land owners were hoping to get some definitive information on this last week and clarity on the payment levels offered for the Sustainable Farming Initiative (SFI). Nevertheless, Environment Secretary Thérèse Coffey who was delivering a speech at the CLA Business Conference, announced there would be an announcment in the New Year.
It’s not all doom and gloom. The Biomass Feedstocks Innovation programmme funded by BEIS is a game changer for the perennial energy crops sector. For the first time since the 1990s serious funding is being ploughed into developing new ways to innovate and meet the upscale challenge that could lead to 700,000 hectares of biomass crops by 2050. This shows that the Government broadly understands that the sector requires support and investment, and any green shoots need to be nurtured so an industry can be developed and ultimately deliver on this promise. The BFI projects will be wrapping up in the spring of 2025. Based on the typical time that Government backed initiatives take to be designed, consulted on and launched, it is likely that any schemes that do come on the back of the Biomass Strategy will be launched just as many on these BFI innovations are ready for commercialisation. Coincidence? I would like to think not.
U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres told delegates at the recent COP27 in Egypt that “We are on a highway to climate hell with our foot on the accelerator.” The UK Biomass Strategy and ELMS need to be part of the answer to the Climate Emergency. If we get this right, then other countries will be following our lead and learning from our examples. So, although these delays could be considered a setback, I am (for now anyway) willing to give the benefit of the doubt and look on the positive side. My hope is that by being cautious about publishing, the Government is showing that they are determined to get this right and are truly committed to a low carbon and sustainable future with biomass crops having a pivotal role.
For more information on past UK perennial energy crops policy read:
Adams, PWR and Lindegaard KN (2016) A critical appraisal of the effectiveness of UK perennial energy crops policy since 1990 . Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews