The Island’s Footprint Trust charity is backing woodfuel biomass technology which it says will reduce overall carbon emissions and help guarantee fuel for the future.
The Trust has produced a rational seven-page report entitled, Biomass Energy for the Isle of Wight – fuel for the future? It aims is to answer concerns about biomass generation and explaining the technology.
‘ We were concerned about misinformation based on out-of-date opinion being circulated. As with wind power the public are often fed wrong information by those who are opposed to these technologies…’
‘Britain now is a net importer of oil and coal. Over 50% of our mains gas is now coming from Norway and other countries, and Russia is set to become a major supplier in the near future. We have the opportunity of investing in all types of renewable energy now and plan for the years ahead.’
Says Ray Harrington-Vail of the educational Trust.
The report states that the Isle of Wight is a microcosm of this challenge: being heavily dependent on fuel from the English mainland and further afield. The Island has the potential to harvest renewable energy from a number of sources including wind, solar, tidal and biomass.
Biomass crops are grown and then burnt to produce energy. It can also be the waste residue from a crop or derived from animal waste products.
It is close to carbon-neutral as it is only releasing the carbon taken up during its relatively short lifetime. Thus if a fast growing plantation conifer tree is grown and then burnt in a biomass power station it will only release the carbon it has absorbed during its lifetime. If left to grow to old age and die its carbon would be released anyway through the decaying process as carbon dioxide or methane.
It is sometimes assumed that anything which involves felling trees is bad for the environment. This is not true: on a small and sustainable scale, managed woodlands can be better for wildlife and particularly the economy than woods which are left unmanaged. In areas where almost all woodlands have been managed in the past, such as south-east England and the Isle of Wight, there are significant opportunities to improve wildlife and habitats by managing woodlands and felling trees sustainably.
Ideally waste wood from industry or forestry, which would otherwise be left to rot, or be landfilled, would be the first choice. Burning harvested wood from sustainably managed woodlands can also be a positive move that can produce fuel and increase biodiversity of native woodlands.
A number of biomass power stations are currently being proposed for the Isle of Wight. Most of the proposals are small scale and potentially could harvest wood from the Island in a sustainable manner and would contribute to reducing our carbon dioxide emissions. One large proposal is to import sustainable wood fuel from Europe in pelletised form.
The Isle of Wight does, in theory, have enough renewable wood supplies to heat some 17,000 homes. There are some 5459 ha of woodland on the Island, and much of it is not managed.
The method of transportation to power stations is an important one. If the wood were to travel long distances by road vast amounts of energy would be used. Ideally freight should be moved by water or rail as these are the two most energy efficient modes of transport. To maximise the carbon emission savings from wood-fired power plants, supplies of wood, wood chips and pellets should be sourced from close to the facility. However, the UK does not have the infrastucture or the volume of woodlands to do this fully at present.
The impact on the local environment is worth considering, but in this case biomass is little different to conventional fuels, and certainly better than some. Modern hi-tech biomass plants have good control of their emissions. With good quality equipment, fuel and operating practice, levels of the emissions compare favourably with other modern power stations. Modern woodfuel systems burn very cleanly producing small quantities of ash and very little smoke. The ash is typically less than 1% of the wood input, by volume. It is not classed as a hazardous waste and can be disposed of with relative ease, for example for use as a fertilizer.
Having assessed the evidence the Footprint Trust concludes that it will be beneficial to create new biofuel plants on the Isle of Wight providing that the fuel used is sourced from the Isle of Wight or Hampshire, or failing that is imported to the Island by ship from its country of origin.
It is acceptable, in the short term, that wood fuel be imported from Scandinavia, Europe and the Baltic states, harvested from residues of sustainably managed plantations or woodlands. Ideally these should be part of the FSC scheme.
Large-scale monoculture plantations on the Isle of Wight could damage biodiversity through loss of habitat. It will be less damaging to import some of our woodfuels than go for that option. The carbon footprint will be smaller bringing pellets from, for example, Sweden in a ship than many lorries from Scotland. To move a tonne of material one kilometer by road in the EU or UK would result in 123 grams of carbon dioxide being emitted. To move the same by sea would be only 13 grams.
We reject the idea that biomass is an exclusive alternative to wind power or other forms of renewable energy. There is no reason why these energy sources cannot coexist. The Isle of Wight is one of the windiest and sunniest places in the UK – it is a natural choice for these technologies too. It is unfortunate that those behind the plant in Stag Lane have chosen to attack other forms of renewable energy in the fight to get their scheme approved. We feel they may have alienated many potential supporters by doing so. The Footprint Trust is however not interested in point scoring. We make no apology for backing biomass and wind power projects on the Isle of Wight. We encourage all developers to consider carefully the merits of using a sustainable energy source in any future projects on the Island. We urge the Isle of Wight Council to back biomass plans, subject to environmental impact assessments.
Please email for full copy of report. Info AT footprint-trust.co.uk
Tel 01983 822282. Ray Harrington-Vail.
The Footprint Trust
The Footprint Trust is a registered educational charity based on the Isle of Wight. It was set up in 2002 to reduce the ‘ecological footprint’ of the Island through promoting sustainable living. The Trust promotes energy conservation and renewable energy. The Trust believes that very few human activities in the developed world are truly ‘carbon neutral’ but it is possible to find low carbon solutions to most activities.