By Phil MacDonald, Head of Comms at Sandbag.
With a just a sprinkling of biomass, companies across Europe have been greenwashing their coal burning.
By adding sometimes small amounts of biomass to furnaces full of coal, lignite or peat, and harvesting the ‘renewables’ subsidies this earns them, it looks suspiciously like dirty old power plants have been kept open long past their time.
To reach the “below 2 degrees” goal agreed at Paris, the IEA’s modelling shows that unabated coal in Europe must fall to zero by 2030. Any biomass cross-subsidy must be stopped if Europe is to rapidly phase out coal and play its part in avoiding climate breakdown.
Sandbag has investigated the extent of this hidden funding for coal, the full details are published in our report: “Something Nasty In The Woodshed”.
It is not a small problem: 23% of solid biomass used for electricity generation was co-fired in coal plants in 2015 (the most recent year for which data is available). This is most prevalent in Poland, Finland, Hungary, Denmark and the Czech Republic. Further subsidies are available for old, inefficient coal plants to convert to burn purely biomass, if you include these, the figure rises to 40%.
Having doled out huge subsidies for new co-firing in their latest renewables auctions, the Netherlands was a growing concern. However, since we wrote the report, just last week the Dutch coalition agreement promised to end coal-biomass cofiring subsidies by 2024, and phase-out coal generation completely by 2030.
Subsidies for co-firing biomass throw the dying coal industry a lifeline, so it is imperative that on the 28th November the ITRE committee supports a ban and ensures legislation comes into force as swiftly as possible – any delay opens a window for coal operators to lock-in lengthy subsidy contracts, keeping them on the grid.
Ahead of the European Parliament decision, other countries should follow the Netherlands and stop illicitly funding coal.
If you go down to the woods today, you might find them chopped up and fed to the coal plant next door. MEPs have the opportunity to put a stop to this, once and for all.
Banner photo: © Shutterstock