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Europe adopts report on biomass sustainability

The European Commission has adopted a report on sustainability requirements for the use of solid biomass and biogas in electricity, heating and cooling, concluding that more detailed legislation is not necessary at this stage.

The report makes recommendations on sustainability criteria to be used by member countries that wish to introduce a scheme at national level, in order to avoid obstacles for the functioning of the internal market for biomass.

It also includes an impact assessment which shows that binding criteria would impose substantial costs on European economic actors, bearing in mind that at least 90% of biomass consumed in the EU comes from European forest residues and by-products of other industries.

“Biomass is one of the most important resources for reaching our renewable energy targets; it already contributes more than half of renewable energy consumption in the EU, providing a clean, secure and competitive energy resource,” says energy commissioner Günther Oettinger.

“With this report, the Commission provides recommendations to Member States concerning sustainability criteria for solid biomass and biogas,” he adds. “A review is foreseen in 18 months in order to assess whether the scheme needs to be modified, including through the introduction of some mandatory standards.”

Guidance to EU member states on biomass

In the absence of harmonised rules at the EU level, individual countries can implement their own national programmes for solid and gaseous biomass to be used in electricity, heating and cooling. The report provides recommendations to follow similar patterns and, most importantly, to be guided by the sustainability criteria explained in the report.

“Member States must ensure that national sustainability schemes do not constitute a means of arbitrary discrimination or a disguised restriction on trade,” the report concludes. It emphasises that minimising the risk of the varied and possibly incompatible criteria at national level, could avoid to trade barriers and limiting the growth of the bioenergy sector.

The recommended criteria relate to:

  • General prohibition on the use of biomass from land converted from forest, other high carbon stock areas and highly biodiverse areas;
  • Common GHG calculation methodology to ensure that minimum GHG savings from biomass are at least 35% (rising to 50% in 2017 and 60% in 2018 for new installations) compared to the EU's fossil energy mix;
  • Differentiation of national support schemes in favour of installations that achieve high energy conversion efficiencies; and
  • Monitoring of the origin of biomass.

The report recommends that member countries not apply sustainability criteria to wastes, as these must already fulfill environmental rules in accordance with waste legislation at national and at European level. It also suggests that sustainability requirements should apply to larger energy producers of 1 MW thermal or 1 MW electrical capacity, or above.

Under the EU’s Renewable Energy Directive, member countries must submit national renewable energy action plans by this June, which will be a key tool to identify the EU's ambitions for exploiting its biomass potentials. The Renewable Energy Directive was adopted last year and sets up sustainability criteria for biofuels and bioliquids.

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