European Parliament groups mobilize to end biomass subsidies – EURACTIV.com
The three largest political groups in the European Parliament have backed proposals to end subsidies for biomass used in power plants and to exclude primary wood combustion from EU renewable energy targets.
The biomass amendments, which are part of the European Renewable Energy Directive, will be put to a plenary vote in the European Parliament on Wednesday 14 September.
“We are going to end the subsidies,” said Nils Torvalds, a Finnish lawmaker from parliament’s centrist Renew group who is leading the biomass proposal.
“Because of the subsidies, some member states are cutting a lot more wood in a way that is not acceptable. And so ending the subsidies is a big first step,” he told EURACTIV.
According to Torvalds, he will “easily find a majority” in the plenary thanks to support from Parliament’s three largest political groups – the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) and the centrist Renew Europe.
The Finnish MEP believes that biomass subsidies were needed years ago to help bring first-generation biofuels to the EU market.
“But they can’t stay indefinitely because they’re no longer useful. They are counterproductive in many ways, both from an economic point of view and from the point of view of restoring nature and biodiversity.
“I don’t see any argument for keeping the subsidies except greed. »
Industry association Bioenergy Europe refuted the claims, saying the subsidies support the EU economy and create jobs for EU citizens.
“Furthermore, when comparing subsidies per unit of energy produced, biomass receives much less support than other renewable or fossil energy sources,” said Irene di Padua, policy director at Bioenergy Europe.
Bioenergy has come under fire from environmental groups who say burning wood drives deforestation, destroys natural habitats and undermines forests that act as carbon sinks in the fight against climate change.
Campaigners claimed victory in May this year when Parliament’s Environment Committee voted in favor of new rules clarifying what can be considered ‘sustainable biomass’ under the EU’s revised Renewable Energy Directive .
But they were disappointed by the proposed compromise deal, which is now before Parliament’s plenary.
“This deal… violates the spirit and the letter of what the environment committee voted on,” said Delia Villagrasa, senior adviser at the Partnership for Policy Integrity (PPI), a green advocacy group.
While the regulation proposes to “gradually reduce” the use of biomass, it does not set a target for 2030, Villagrasa told EURACTIV.
And since the gradual reduction is linked to the “share” of renewable energy produced in Europe – which is expected to at least double by 2030 – the end result “could even allow an increase in the burning of trees, contributing to even more destruction. climate and biodiversity”. “, she warned.
“Primary” biomass excluded
While an end to subsidies seems rather consensual among MEPs, a more contentious issue for them is defining the types of biomass that can be considered “renewable” under the EU Renewable Energy Directive.
“It’s a much more complicated problem,” admitted Torvalds. Because if the definition of sustainable biomass is too broad, “it will lead to removing more primary biomass from the forest than what we consider acceptable”.
And it depends on what constitutes “primary woody biomass” – or the type of wood that cannot be burned for energy production.
“The general rule is that primary biomass – ie logs – cannot be used as renewable energy. And that’s our way of trying to move biomass away from unacceptable use,” explained Torvalds.
According to the compromise text, “‘primary woody biomass’ means all roundwood felled or otherwise harvested and removed”, including “branches, roots, stumps and burls (when harvested) and wood roughly shaped or pointed”.
It does not, however, include “woody biomass obtained from sustainable forest fire prevention measures in high-risk fire-prone areas, woody biomass obtained from road safety measures and woody biomass extracted from forests affected by natural disasters, active pests or diseases to prevent their spread”. spread” – all types of wood that would be acceptable under EU renewable energy targets.
Industry association Bioenergy Europe said Parliament’s proposals to ban the use of ‘primary biomass’ as renewable energy are “extremely worrying and we strongly oppose it”.
According to EU statistics, biomass accounts for almost 60% of all European renewables – more than wind and solar combined, the group said.
“While we firmly believe that strong criteria must be in place to ensure the sustainability of bioenergy, we also know that these criteria must be defined in a smart and efficient way, without unnecessarily restricting the sector at a time when we are witnessing the the worsening effects of climate change across Europe and soaring energy prices,” said Irene di Padua of Bioenergy Europe.
In previous statements, the group warned against the stance taken by Parliament’s Environment Committee, saying its definition of ‘primary biomass’ was too strict and risked losing 20% of renewable energy from Europe.
Combined heat and power plants
Another open question is whether biomass should be considered sustainable when burned in combined heat and power (CHP) plants, which use wood pellets as fuel for the simultaneous production of electricity and heat.
Cogeneration “is a more efficient way to burn biomass” than using wood pellets in home heaters, Torvalds said. “I don’t think all these pellets are sustainable,” he told EURACTIV.
Finland and Sweden, which are the biggest users of biomass in Europe, use pellets mainly in efficient cogeneration plants, but this is not the case in Italy, Denmark or Germany, where pellets tend to be burned in individual heaters, he said.
“If pellets are used in biomass power plants, we think they have an efficient way to burn them. But when you’re talking about individual apartments, the way they’re burned down isn’t very efficient,” he explained.
However, no derogation for cogeneration is foreseen in the compromise text, Torvalds said, expressing hope that this can be corrected when the directive goes through final negotiations with EU member states in the coming months. come.
“The sticking point is whether we can find a scientific solution to the problem of cogeneration… (and) see how it can be factored into the goal,” he said.
[Edited by Alice Taylor]