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July 25, 2014

United Kingdom Government Confirms Change to Sustainability Criteria for Biomass

The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) in the United Kingdom published its response to its “Consultation on proposals to enhance the sustainability criteria for the use of biomass feedstocks under the Renewables Obligation (RO)” on 22 August 2013 (the Response). The original consultation was published on 7 September 2012.

In the Response, the UK Government confirms that it will proceed with its proposals to revise the content and significance of the sustainability criteria applicable to the use of solid biomass and biogas feedstocks for electricity generation under the Renewables Obligation (RO). The RO is currently the principal regime for incentivising the development of large-scale renewable electricity generation in the United Kingdom. Eligible electricity generators receive renewables obligation certificates (ROCs) for each megawatt hour (MWh) of renewable source electricity that they generate. Biomass qualifies as renewable source electricity, subject to some conditions.

Changes to the criteria

The sustainability criteria associated with the RO is broadly divided into greenhouse gas (GHG) lifecycle criteria, land use criteria and profiling criteria. There will be changes to all of the criteria, but the significant changes relate to the first two criteria, and will take effect from 1 April 2014.

In general terms, the GHG lifecycle criteria are designed to ensure that each delivery of biomass results in a minimum GHG emissions saving, when compared to the use of fossil fuel. The savings are measured in kilograms (kg) of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2eq) per MWh over the lifecycle of the consignment (sometimes referred to as “field or forest to flame”). The UK Government has confirmed that all generating plants using solid biomass and / or biogas (including dedicated, co-firing or converted plants and new and existing plants) will be on the same GHG emissions trajectory from 1 April 2020 (200 kg CO2eq per MWh). In the meantime, new dedicated biomass power will be placed on an accelerated GHG emissions trajectory (240kg CO2eq per MWh). All other biomass power will remain on the standard GHG emissions trajectory (285kg CO2eq per MWh) until 1 April 2020.

Changes to the land use criteria will also be introduced. In particular, generating plants using feedstocks which are virgin wood or made from virgin wood will need to meet new sustainable forest management criteria based on the UK Government's timber procurement policy principles.

The land use criteria set out in the European Union (EU) Renewable Energy Directive 2009 (RED) will continue to apply to the use of all other solid biomass and biogas, with some specific variations for energy crops. As is the current position, the land use criteria will not apply to the use of biomass waste or feedstocks wholly derived from waste, animal manure or slurry.

The new sustainability criteria will be fixed until 1 April 2027, except if the EU mandates or recommends specific changes to the sustainability criteria for solid biomass, biogas or bioliquids, or if changes are otherwise required by EU or international regulation.

Making compliance mandatory

Currently, whilst generators using solid biomass and / or biogas have to report on their compliance with the sustainability criteria, their compliance with such criteria is not linked to their eligibility for ROCs. This will change, on a phased basis.

Specifically, from 1 April 2014, all generating plants with an output of 1MW and above using solid biomass and / or biogas (except landfill gas or sewage gas) will be required to submit an annual independent audit report, which assesses their compliance with the sustainability criteria, in addition to or as part of their sustainability report.

From April 2015, this category of plants will have to meet the sustainability criteria to be eligible for ROCs. This is already the case for generating plants using bioliquids, consistent with the RED. The introduction of the mandatory requirement in 2015 is subject to the UK Government complying with its obligation to notify the sustainability criteria under the EU Technical Standards Directive.

When introduced, the changes outlined in the Response will impose what is expected to be the most stringent controls on the use of solid and gaseous biomass for energy in the world.

To view the full text of The Response click here.

© 2014 McDermott Will & Emery

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