Drax and Eggborough power stations, if their plans are realised, will need 15 million tonnes of that material, the majority of which, it is fair to say, will come from abroad in a pelletised form. The UK simply does not have the forestry or the raw material. It is worth pointing out, however, that those are coal-fired power stations and that the vast majority of the coal—in fact, every bit of coal going into Eggborough—is imported.
Eggborough, as the Minister knows, is in the final stages of some detailed talks with the Department of Energy and Climate Change. The project is shovel-ready for full conversion of all four of its 500 MW units; the first unit could start generating exclusively from biomass in late 2014, if we get things right. Can the Minister reassure us that he will monitor and facilitate the progress of the second conversion project, which is important for my constituency and the UK, as it passes through the internal DECC processes? Over the next few years, as a result of the projects, the predominantly coal-fired stations will become predominantly sustainable biomass-fired stations, providing a significant contribution to the UK’s targets for renewable energy, protecting thousands of jobs, as mentioned by my hon. Friend Andrew Percy, and enabling hundreds of millions of pounds of investment in the stations, as well as the enormous investment and job potential in the upgrading of our ports and railways to facilitate them.
Sustainable biomass is an essential part of our renewable energy mix: it is low cost, low carbon—if sustainably forested—and, importantly, it fuels reliable, predictable and dispatchable generation. Its availability is not exposed to the day-to-day vagaries of the Great British weather, so it can provide electricity when needed rather than when the weather permits. Also, unlike almost all other renewables, biomass does not require us all to pay for stand-by fossil fuel capacity for the times when the sun does not shine and the wind fails to blow.
By now Members will have gathered that I am immensely proud of and pleased with the progress we have made on biomass in Selby and Ainsty, which will soon be the renewable energy capital of Europe, as I am sure all will agree. We will have the potential for more than 4 GW of renewable generation in a five-mile radius, which is equivalent to some 8,000 of the large 2-MW onshore wind turbines or, put another way, to more than double the total realistic output of all the onshore wind turbines built in the UK by the start of this year.
I am, however, confused by some of the inaccuracies that tend to creep into the debate, often from those who should know better. To be clear, and as I mentioned earlier, biomass is not a zero-carbon technology but a low-carbon one. Emissions are associated with the harvesting and transport of biomass, and they must be extremely closely monitored. I fully support the Government’s efforts to ensure that mandatory sustainability standards are applied, as do Eggborough and Drax, which already insist on robust sustainability standards and criteria.
Most large-scale biomass generation in the UK will use wood, often by-products of other industries, such as forestry and sawmill residues together with non-commercial timber from thinning and forestry management operations. None of those sources cause land use change, which cannot be said of those used for biofuels such as palm oil; none of them results in lost opportunities for food production; and all of them generate substantial overall carbon savings.