Biomass heat incentivises sustainably managed forests

WHA’s response to The Mail on Sunday.

Biomass heat is one of the most efficient and cost-effective modern energy sources, which uses sustainable forestry resource, typically certified wood pellets and chips.

The Government’s Renewable Heat Incentive is only open to biomass boilers and other technologies such as heat pumps and solar thermal, not wood stoves or burners. The fuel is controlled by the government, which requires woodfuel producers to put in place sustainable forest management practices, and to provide evidence that wood can be traced from a sustainable source. The strict regulation of the woodfuel ensures that there will be no changes in land use or deforestation. To protect the ecosystems, forest productivity, biodiversity, and forest health, woodfuel suppliers will have to comply with mandatory sustainability criteria:

In Britain, this is often demonstrated by being certified by either Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) or the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC).

The Forestry Commission, which is responsible for protecting and expanding Britain’s woods and forests and manages nearly 1 million hectares of public forest, believes that the increased demand for woodfuel provides the economic basis for bringing the 45% of UK woodlands that are currently under-managed back into sustainable management. By thinning trees in dense woods to produce the fuel, it opens up the forest, which encourages more wood land growth rather than less and benefits woodland biodiversity, wildlife, local economies, and prevents climate change. In the UK, felling of trees is heavily regulated by the Forestry Commission through felling licences, which is only allowed with a clear management plan and replanting proposals. In 2014/2015, 1782ha woodland and 273ha of open habitat were created, with an illegal felling of less than 0.2%. The annual increment in English woodland is around 7.4million tonnes, with an annual harvest around 2.6 million tonnes.

The Forestry Commission estimates that every year at least two million tonnes of wood could be used for woodfuel to heat the equivalent of 800 hospitals or 3,000 rural schools and save 1.5 million tonnes of CO2 a year. The Forestry Commission’s Chairwoman Pam Warhurst has previously stated that “Sustainably grown and locally used woodfuel is good for rural businesses, improves woodland health and wildlife and cuts climate change emissions”.

In addition, biomassfuel users are required to demonstrate a minimum carbon saving of 60%, and often achieving much higher emission cuts.

Biomass heating therefore ensures better, more sustainably managed forests in the UK and abroad, carbon savings, improves wildlife and forest health, and stimulates the rural economy, all on top of providing consumers with high quality heating of their homes and schools.