* Biomass expected to account for around half of EU
* Biofuel mistakes forced policy u-turn
* Utilities say they want harmonised system
By Barbara Lewis
BRUSSELS, Aug 19 Draft proposals to regulate the
use of biomass to generate energy, critics say, place the
European Union on track to repeat the mistakes it made in its
policy on biofuels, increasingly seen as doing more harm than
Various forms of woody matter, ranging from olive stones and
old black-currant bushes to specially-manufactured pellets, are
used to generate electricity and heat.
Utilities, such RWE, have embraced biomass to help
substitute highly polluting coal, and biomass is expected to
account for around half of the EU target to get 20 percent of
all energy from renewable sources by 2020.
A draft version of a Commission proposal seen by Reuters
details sustainability criteria for biomass.
They include a minimum greenhouse gas savings of 60 percent
compared with fossil fuel, avoiding producing raw material in
areas of high biodiversity and harmonised accounting rules to
prevent each member state setting different standards.
The proposals also link allowing government financial
support to meeting the Commission's proposed criteria.
The Commission, the EU executive, does not comment on
Campaigners say the draft, expected to be published over the
coming weeks, does not take sufficient account of mounting
scientific evidence that biomass is not carbon-neutral and some
forms are more environmentally-damaging than fossil fuels.
"Biofuels are really just the tip of the bioenergy iceberg.
With current biomass policies unchanged, we are likely to meet
our renewable energy target while increasing rather than
decreasing emissions," Ariel Brunner, head of EU policy at
BirdLife International, said.
BIOFUEL POLICY U-TURN
On biofuels, the Commission has been forced into major
In 2008, the European Union agreed to get 10 percent of
transport fuel from renewable sources, but last year, the
Commission announced plans to restrict the use of crop-based
biofuels to 5 percent after scientific studies underlined the
environmental damage caused by some of them.
The European Parliament is expected to hold a plenary vote
on the new biofuel proposal in September. To become law, it
would also need member state endorsement.
The main problem is indirect land use change, known as ILUC.
The term refers to the disruption caused by using farmland to
grow crops for energy rather than food, either within the
European Union or elsewhere in the world.
It can mean farmers expand into rain forests and wetlands,
for instance, which substantially adds to carbon emissions.
Environmental campaigners say the ILUC issue is relevant to
biomass as well as to biofuel and the biomass proposal does not
take sufficient account of it.
They also say the biomass sustainability criterion of a 60
percent emissions cut versus fossil fuel is meaningless because
it ignores the carbon emitted while burning the woody biomass.
Biomass users declined to comment in detail on an
unpublished document but said they would welcome harmonised
A spokeswoman for RWE Innogy, which has a plant in Georgia,
United States, to make biomass pellets said: "RWE considers a
sustainable use of biomass as vital for all industries".