Greens urge EU rethink on ETS utility ‘loophole’ for biomass

Published 23:46 on March 16, 2015  /  Last updated at 14:54 on May 11, 2016  / Ben Garside /  EMEA, EU ETS

The EU is failing to regulate emissions equivalent to 4-7% of the annual ETS cap by not properly checking how power stations burn biomass, green groups said on Monday.

The European Union is failing to regulate emissions equivalent to around 4-7% of the EU ETS cap by not properly checking how power stations burn biomass, green groups said on Monday.

A joint study by Birdlife, European Environmental Bureau and Transport & Environment called on the European Commission to propose tightening up the regulations as part of post-2020 reforms to the EU ETS Directive due to be published in June.

Such measures could raise EU carbon prices if the emissions are included under ETS caps set to sharply tighten next decade.

They could also heap extra costs onto utilities, which have increased their burning of biomass in recent years to minimise ETS compliance costs and comply with renewable energy targets while meeting round-the-clock electricity demand.

The study found:-

  • the EU is incorrect to rate the burning of biomass as carbon neutral by assuming an equal amount of CO2 was soaked up when the biomass grew.
  • this is because the EU doesn’t properly regulate to ensure the biomass comes from sustainable sources or fully account for changes in land use.
  • biomass-burning for EU power and heat emits between 90-150 million tonnes of CO2 a year, equivalent to 4-7% of the ETS cap in 2013.

With domestic supplies of wood pellets and residues running short, utilities have been sourcing increasing amounts from abroad, much of it from forests in the southwestern US.

Power generators including Drax, EON and GDF Suez have introduced their own criteria for sourcing the material aiming to ensure the practice does not result in a net release of CO2.

The greens’ study contends that while biofuels used in EU road transport must comply with sustainability criteria to be given a zero emissions rating and benefit from policy incentives, there is currently no EU-wide sustainability criteria for biomass used in heat and power production.

They acknowledged this could change under the Commission’s proposed Energy Union pledge to lay down a sustainability policy for all bioenergy over the next two years.

The study was submitted to a European Commission consultation on reforming the EU ETS Directive, which closed on Monday. The EU executive’s proposal would need to be agreed by both member states and the bloc’s parliament to become law, a process likely to take at least 1-2 years.

By Ben Garside –