A crucial debate about biomass is due to take place in the Scottish Parliament on Wednesday evening, 16 January. It has been convened in response to a motion by Rhoda Grant MSP which gained cross-party support. It will be a key debate in advance of a final Scottish Government decision on long-term subsidies for biomass power stations.
There are widespread concerns amongst the public and MSPs from different parties that current Government proposals for renewable electricity subsidies will incentivise large, polluting and inefficient biomass power stations that could have serious negative impacts on carbon emissions and on forests worldwide.
The Scottish Government previously warned that "large-scale electricity-only biomass is inefficient and requires more wood than the UK can produce" and proposed a cap on the size of electricity-only power stations which would receive subsidies. This policy intention, however, is contradicted by their proposed exemptions from the subsidy cap. According to campaigners, highly inefficient biomass power stations, such as those proposed by Forth Energy for Grangemouth, Dundee and Rosyth, would be exempt from the cap by being classed as ‘combined heat and power', even if they make use of just a tiny amount of heat. Those three power stations alone could attract £221m in subsidies every year. They are expected to burn millions of tonnes of wood from the Americas.
Andrew Llanwarne, Friends of the Earth Scotland, said: "If Scottish Government proposals go ahead and Forth Energy's applications are approved they could receive over £5.5bn in public subsidies over the lifespan of those power stations. This money should be spent on supporting real renewables which are sustainable and mitigate climate change – not on inefficient power stations which will worsen carbon emissions, air pollution and forest destruction. We are astonished that the Scottish Government would fund these climate-wrecking projects whilst proclaiming its commitments to reduce emissions and support climate justice."
Biomass power stations emit around 50% more CO2 per unit of energy than coal power stations and a growing number of studies shows that their overall climate impact is likely to be even worse than that of coal for at least one or two generations. Under EU law, governments should support energy from biomass only if it is produced with 70% efficiency, which is twice as high as what the Scottish Government proposes to subsidise.
Rhoda Grant MSP welcomed the debate: "This debate is much needed to address sustainable biomass in Scotland. As the consultation on the Renewables Obligations Banding Review closed on 11th January it is imperative that the Scottish Government take the right steps in securing a low carbon economy and sustainable energy for the people of Scotland. Small scale sustainable heat generating biomass provides an opportunity to tackle fuel poverty off gas grid. However, sources of fuel must be sustainable and for that to be the case global wood prices must be stable. I hope that this debate will address concerns head on."
Green MSP Patrick Harvie said: "Cutting down vast areas of foreign forest to burn for electricity in Scotland would be a complete disaster and the Scottish Government must ensure that renewable energy subsidies are not used to encourage large-scale biomass. Burning trees for electricity on an industrial scale is totally inefficient and a waste of money in a country with a world-leading renewables sector. There is a role for small-scale biomass for heat and I'd like to see far more focus from developers to support community size renewable projects."
For media enquiries, please contact: Per Fischer, Press Office, Friends of the Earth Scotland t: 0131 243 2719
Almuth Ernsting, Biofuelwatch co-director t: 01316232600
 The motion is available at scottish-parliament.ws/parliamentarybusiness/28877.aspx?SearchType=Advance&ReferenceNumbers=S4M-04966&ResultsPerPage=10
 The Scottish Government is expected to publish a draft Statutory Instrument about long-term renewable electricity subsidies in February.
 The level of public concern is reflected in a large number of critical responses to recent government consultations on biomass subsidies, in a high level of support for a current related email alert by Friends of the Earth Scotland and Biofuelwatch, and in the large number of objections to biomass power station applications such as those in Grangemouth and Dundee.
 For a list of studies into the carbon impacts of biomass electricity, see www.biofuelwatch.org.uk/resources-on-biomass
 Article 18(6) of the EU Renewable Energy Directive states that member states should support biomass only with a minimum of 70% efficiency, yet under Scottish Government proposals, any biomass power station with just 35% efficiency will be subsidised provided it makes some use of heat - which could simply be used for drying its own wood pellets. See www.biofuelwatch.org.uk/2012/scottish-parliament-briefing-rocs