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Volume 607: debated on Thursday 24 March 2016

11. What assessment she has made of the effect on the feedstock supply chain of her Department’s proposals to improve the sustainability of the use of biomass in the heat and electricity sectors. (904304)

May I gently point out, Mr Speaker, that as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I are mothers, we have eyes in the back of our heads and are able to make eye contact right around the Chamber?

As my hon. Friend the Member for Selby and Ainsty (Nigel Adams) knows, mandatory biomass feedstock sustainability criteria came into force under the renewables obligation from 1 April 2015 and under the renewable heat incentive from 5 October 2015. The criteria will ensure that biomass is sourced from sustainably managed forests and provides a minimum 60% life-cycle greenhouse gas saving over our average fossil fuel mix.

I am grateful for that reply and congratulate the Minister and her Department on the UK’s sustainability criteria for solid biomass being among the most robust in the world, but why is the Department holding back from further deployment of this affordable, reliable source of low-carbon power?

On 17 March, the Chancellor announced that the overall budget for three CfD auctions in this Parliament will total £730 million of annual support. That is for pot 2, which includes biomass, combined heat and power, advanced conversion technologies, and anaerobic digestion. We see the use of biomass in coal conversions as a transitional technology, helping us on our path to a low-carbon economy. We have already made significant commitments to the sector, supporting 1.6 GW of biomass conversions.

I recently met a group of EU foresters—it was a very unusual meeting—at a symposium in Milverton in my constituency to discuss sustainable forestry. They expressed concerns that our growing biomass industry is putting pressure on many countries further afield to supply wood, possibly causing deforestation. Will the Minister assure us that sustainability is a key part of encouraging this exciting new biomass industry?

My hon. Friend enjoys that kind of meeting very much. I can absolutely assure her that we keep the whole question of sustainability under review. She will be interested to know that analysis of the 2013-14 sustainability data that companies report to Ofgem under the renewables obligation shows that all the reported biomass achieved the greenhouse gas saving target and met the land criteria, two years before they are mandatory. But we do keep this under review.