Biomass fuelled power station at Holyhead: is it sustainable? What do you think?


Biomass has been a bone of contention amongst green campaigners of late, but why?

In the news:

Campaigners for biomass are encouraging the Government to support investment in biomass technology while reviewing renewable energy subsidies, with the Renewable Energy Association (REA) launching a Back Biomass campaign, which argues that biomass creates jobs, contributes to a low-carbon economy and produces affordable energy.

The most recent controversy surrounds the Government’s decision to allow a biomass fuelled power station to be built at Penrhos Works in Holyhead, Anglesey. Not only will the plant generate enough electricity to power 300,000 homes, almost a quarter of the homes in Wales, it will also provide 700 jobs, with 100 of those jobs remaining permanent after construction is complete. Praising the project, Charles Hendry, Minister of State for Energy said: “Biomass power stations such as this one in Anglesey will provide us a reliable, secure, flexible and renewable source of power.”

Llyn Bychan North Wales

Llyn Bychan, North Wales

What the critics say:

However, Friends of the Earth (FoE) argue that the wood-burning power station would cause more environmental problems than it would solve. Although FoE largely supports the use of biomass, it does so only on the condition that it does not negatively impact the environment. For instance, the group will not support the use of biomass if it involves imported wood fuel, and states that the use of land for food production must be prioritised over the use of land for energy crop production, warning that “there are dangers” (Download FoE: Energy from Biomass: Position Statement).

The Wood Panel Industries Federation (WPIF) has also warned that there are risks associated with the use of biomass, suggesting that ‘large-scale’ biomass threatens UK jobs, will increase carbon emissions and will cause a rise in the price of timber. Only last week the EU’s environment watchdog, the Scientific Committee of the European Environment Agency, reported: “It is widely assumed that bioenergy is inherently carbon-neutral – however this assumption is flawed.”

The Holyhead biomass plant will source approximately 200,000 tonnes a year of energy crops from Welsh farms, and will import over 2.4m tonnes of wood from overseas. Importing raw materials from overseas raises serious questions about the sustainability of this plant, indeed the carbon footprint generated from transporting the wood to the UK will be substantial in itself.

There are additional concerns about the environmental impact of increased demand for timber on our forests and ecosystems, with further criticism from those groups who would like to see the UK make more use of wind, wave, and other types of renewable energy technologies.

A wide range of grants and support schemes are now available in the UK for the use and development of biomass as an energy source, ranging from Feed-in Tariffs for small-scale generators of renewable electricity, to The Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) launched in July this year. The Holyhead plant will likely be the first in a long line of biomass fuelled plants in the UK.

What do you say?

This post instigated an interesting debate on Reddit regarding the best use of biomass and whether or not it is a credible technology for the UK to be utilising. See the full discussion here:

reddit biomass


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5 Responses to “Biomass fuelled power station at Holyhead: is it sustainable? What do you think?”

  1. Chance Russo Says:

    Here are my two cents worth. Biomass fuels can and will be a great source of renewable energy in the future. But I do not think this will come from timber. Timber takes entirely too long to reproduce. England does not have the space needed to produce their own biomass so it is definitely not the right fit for England. There are companies working on getting fuel from forest wastes but these plants must be built next to the woods from which they obtain the waste. Where biomass can be very useful will be with crops that are planted seasonally with plant life that can serve both food and fuel industries. We can use the fruit for food and the waste for fuel.

    For this particular project it does not seem to be a good idea. We must be careful of small third world countries raping their land to sell timber.

  2. Marie McKelvie (@ESI_Marie) Says:

    Hi Chance,

    Thanks for your comment. Really interesting. I think you’re right, space is a huge factor for the UK: it seems excessive that we will have to import 2.4milliion tonnes of wood to supply this plant. With the government here in the UK pushing this technology, it is likely that we will see similar cases arise in the future.

    I agree that the use of biomass is effective in some instances, but I reckon that each project will have to be judged on a case by case basis.


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