Europe urged to refocus bioenergy policy to 2030

Date: 11 May 2016

Trade groups, industry and environmental groups have urged the European Commission to refocus its bioenergy policy as a consultation on the topic comes to a close this week.

Any resulting revisions to Europe’s bioenergy policy, set in 2015, will apply to the period between 2020 and 2030.

In response to growing concerns about bioenergy’s sustainability, use of resources and contribution to supply security, the Commission asked respondents how big a role bioenergy should play in Europe’s energy mix, and what types of bioenergy should be promoted through legislation. It also asked respondents to rate the climate and environment risks of bioenergy production and use.

Finland’s Fortum, which has called for a Europe-wide phase-out of subsidies for biomass fuel in power and heating plants, said current subsidy schemes across the EU are “very fragmented” and “constantly (and even retrospectively) changing”, which impacts investor confidence “especially among smaller enterprises”.

It added that “CHP, which has a pivotal role in bioenergy production, faces rather divergent treatment in various member states in terms of heat price regulation, subsidies and taxation”.

The firm said policy uncertainty has ‘increased’ across the EU, destabilizing the market and ‘reducing investment willingness’. Sustainability and subsidies represent the biggest policy risks impacting the bioenergy sector, it added.

“Biomass markets should be open and progressively integrated across the EU,” the company said. “Markets and economic operators – not politicians – should decide how biomass is used to various purposes.”

Fortum also recommended that EU-wide sustainability criteria be put in place for solid biomass. This would give certainty to producers and users, it said, adding that “the lack of uniform criteria for all bioenergy hinders investments in bioenergy. Divergent national sustainability rules become a barrier to biomass trading and make it more difficult and costly to meet the increasing demand for biomass use in electricity and heat production.”

European biomass trade group AEBIOM agreed that EU-wide sustainability criteria for solid biomass would increase investor confidence. AEBIOM said it favours setting a greenhouse gas emissions savings threshold for all bioenergy of around 60 per cent “in order to provide certainty to investors”.

The trade group recommended a ‘harmonized sustainability policy’ for biomass across Europe. But, echoing Fortum, it noted that, “regarding the raw material sustainability, it is important that the Commission takes an approach based on the biomass types and categories rather than on the energy end use or form.”

AEBIOM added that no further legislative action to mitigate the environmental risks associated with biomass use is necessary, as existing legislation is sufficient.

However, Environmental group BirdLife Europe said the current level of bioenergy use within the EU is not sustainable and that new policy measures are “urgently needed”.

The group distinguished between “unsustainable” biomass culled from energy crops and forests, and “sustainable” products such as agricultural and forestry residues, bio-based waste streams and manure. It said measures promoting sustainable forest management or agriculture “are not viable solutions to guarantee sustainable and climate friendly bioenergy and not the right starting point for a new policy. The policy should rather focus on what kind of biomass and how much is burned for energy.”

Ariel Brunner, Senior Head of Policy at BirdLife Europe, said: “Bioenergy in the EU has gone badly wrong. Instead of wise use of waste streams we have been promoting everything from deforestation to conversion of natural grasslands to intensive monocultures to land grabs. It’s time for fundamental change.”

And climate consultancy Bellona Europa called on the Commission to focus Europe’s bioenergy policy on developing marine fuel sources such as algae and seaweed.

“With their high water content of 85-90 per cent, seaweeds are particularly suitable for established wet fuel conversion methods such as anaerobic digestion and fermentation,” Bellona said in a policy paper. “(Hydrothermal) gasification and/or a mix of pathways, may further improve yields.”

Bellona called on the Commission to “further promote sustainable, marine bioenergy for heat and power, to dedicate resources to better understand the environmental risks of industrial scale seaweed production and to shed light on the difficulties in attaining necessary emission reduction targets and carbon removal without sustainable bioenergy.”

Source: COSPP