Biomass Power Generation — [Mrs Anne Main in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:52 pm on 20th March 2013.

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Photo of Ian Swales Ian Swales Liberal Democrat, Redcar 2:52 pm, 20th March 2013

I congratulate Nigel Adams on not only securing the debate, but his comprehensive review of the industry, and its opportunities and issues. My speech will be short because I was aware that, given his expertise, he would cover many of the points that I might make.

There is no doubt that biomass should be an important part of our energy mix. It is the fourth largest energy resource in the world after coal, oil and gas, and of course none of those is renewable, so it is the largest source of renewable energy in the world. However, this is yet another area in which the UK is playing catch-up. The Renewable Energy Association estimates that the industry employs about 2,000 people in the UK, compared with 60,000 in France and 68,000 in Germany. The technology is well established and many countries are exploiting it fully.

My constituency is in the Tees valley and, rather like the hon. Gentleman’s, it is becoming something of a Disneyland for green technology. Specifically on biomass, the advanced manufacturing technology centre, the Centre for Process Innovation and the Department of Energy and Climate Change are part-sponsoring anaerobic digestion research there, and Northumbrian Water has built a £60 million anaerobic digestion plant in the constituency. We have the largest bioethanol plant in Europe working on wheat. At the large Wilton chemicals site, Sembcorp has converted its power station to burn mostly timber. Across the river, Air Products is building a gasification of waste plant and is already planning its next one to make biofuels and even chemicals.

This morning, I was at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills meeting Korean investors, including Jang Do-soo, the president of Korea South-East Power, which wants to invest in a 300 MW biomass power plant at Teesport. That will involve spending £500 million and follows the signing of a memorandum of understanding in Seoul some months ago, which was attended by a Foreign Office Minister and the UK ambassador. So far, so good, but we keep hearing inconsistent messages from DECC.

I could not attend the meeting of the all-party group on biomass on 26 February, but I was very impressed by the comprehensive notes arising from it—that is another compliment to the hon. Member for Selby and Ainsty, who chairs the group. At the meeting, the Minister repeated his belief that a new-build dedicated biomass plant is more likely to use domestic rather than imported biomass, yet at the same meeting, he referred to 700 million acres of forest in the US alone. The meeting was attended by the Virginia Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry, who is keen for exports. I have been lobbied by the US industry, which is desperately looking for greater use of its commercial timber plantations, as we heard earlier. Surely there is a place for efficient port-based biomass investment to support our base load of electricity in this country. I accept that that might be limited, but surely we should have one or two such facilities.

Some commentators do not seem to understand that wood is a crop just like any other. Sustainable forestry is no different from any other sort of farming; it simply has longer time scales. The industry needs sustainable supplies, because if it puts a substantial amount of capital on the ground, it cannot go round the world looking for spot purchases. A sustainable operation needs a source of sustainable feedstock because the investment is very long term.

I am disappointed about today’s announcement on carbon capture and storage. Teesside came third on a list of two in the CCS competition, but I still believe that it will eventually get a network.