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Power Station Fuel: Short Rotation Coppice

Volume 590: debated on Monday 1 June 1998

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2.44 p.m.

What measures they are taking to promote short rotation coppice as a fuel for power stations.

My Lords, short rotation coppice (SRC) is one of the country's key potential sources of renewable energy. Ten contracts have already been awarded under the non-fossil fuel obligation (NFFO) arrangements for renewables to generate power from SRC and forestry residues for a period of 15 years.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer, but is he aware that the general target of achieving 3 per cent. of our total energy requirement from renewables by 2010 is a very tough target to meet? Is the noble Lord also aware that the cost of establishing coppice is very high, at about £500 per acre, and that that is not attractive to farmers who might be attracted instead towards the softer option of set-aside? Is the Minister aware of what happens in Sweden, where there is a generous subsidy, resulting in the cost coming down to about £200 per acre and the planted area being a lot greater? Should we not do as the Swedes do?

My Lords, perhaps I may allude generally to the measures which are being taken to give support to the use of traditional coppice in response to the points so reasonably made by the noble Viscount. Generators proposing to use existing coppice have been eligible to bid in the NFFO competitions for biomass (in NFFO 3 and 4) which have been held so far. The Woodland Grant Scheme offers both annual management grants for coppiced woodlands and a one-off woodland improvement grant to bring neglected woodlands back into management as coppiced woodlands. The Forestry Commission also promotes training courses in traditional coppicing skills and supports the publication of the sales magazine, Woodlots, which gives owners the opportunity to offer coppiced timber to potential buyers. In addition, the Woodland Grant Scheme is being reviewed by the umbrella organisation, British Biogen, which is hoping to make an announcement sometime in the summer. So, some considerable support is already being given, although not along the lines suggested by the noble Viscount in relation to Sweden.

My Lords, does the Minister intend to grant biomass power stations extra development time under future NFFO rounds in order to allow the first harvest to coincide with the power plant coming on-line?

My Lords, I believe that that matter will be dealt with under the review to which I have just alluded.