Published on February 19th, 2016 | by James Ayre37
Wood Energy Subsidies On The Chopping Block In The Netherlands
February 19th, 2016 by James Ayre
Despite earlier moves towards the large-scale use of wood-fired (biomass) power plants, it looks as though lawmakers in the Netherlands are beginning to have doubts about the approach — with Dutch parliamentarians recently moving to suspend plans for wood energy subsidies.
The concerns highlighted by those in question are that such subsidies will damage the environment, waste money, and draw out the transition away from coal-fired power plants. Wood energy subsidies are fairly common in Europe currently (wood energy is classified as being renewable), despite their obvious association with deforestation, overall greenhouse gas emissions, and rising wood and paper prices.
Humorously, much of the wood burned in Europe for supposedly environmental reasons (as a substitute for fossil fuels) actually has to be shipped all the way from the US — where it comes from, primarily, “pine plantations and natural hardwood forests” in the Southeast. To give you an idea of the scale involved, over 8 million tons of American trees and waste wood were processed to make 4 million tons of wood pellets for export to Europe during 2014.
Climate Central provides more:
Billions of dollars in Dutch government subsidies have been earmarked to help the owners of coal power plants blend wood pellets in with their coal fuel, reducing on-paper climate impacts through a practice known as biomass co-firing. Most biomass fuel is made from wood, although crops and agricultural waste can also be used.
A Climate Central analysis has shown that burning wood pellets for electricity can release 15% to 20% more carbon dioxide pollution than burning coal. Yet a loophole in European climate-protection rules allow nations and power plant owners to avoid counting any of the climate pollution released when wood burns.
Compared with its European neighbors, the Netherlands is a laggard on renewable energy. Wood energy is seen as a way of quickly boosting the share of renewables in Holland’s electricity mix from less than 6% in 2014 to the 14% mandated by the European Union by 2020.
The inherent ridiculousness of the approach has led to some opposition though, which appears to be growing.
“The majority of Parliament currently (now) wants to close all coal power plants in the Netherlands,” stated Jan Vos, a Labor Party parliamentarian who pushed for last week’s vote. “If we subsidize biomass for a timeframe of 8 to 11 years, which is currently the case, then that means that you have a lock-in for 8 to 11 years. We will have to pay those subsidies for that entire timeframe.”
“There’s an ongoing debate on the real emission reduction that biomass delivers, and if co-firing should be promoted at all,” explained Ernst Worrell, an energy professor at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. “Subsidizing biomass co-firing may not only keep the power plants open longer, and hence burn more coal with increased emissions, but also result in high costs.”
The suspension relates to roughly $4 billion in tax revenue and energy fees that would have been used to support the use of wood pellets at the aforementioned coal-fired power plants. The suspension is relevant at least until “a coal plant phase-out” plan is published — after which, further decisions will be made.
Keep up to date with all the hottest cleantech news by subscribing to our (free) cleantech newsletter, or keep an eye on sector-specific news by getting our (also free) solar energy newsletter, electric vehicle newsletter, or wind energy newsletter.
Haven’t taken our 2016 reader survey yet? Do so now!