31 May 2019 by Joshua Doherty

Gove hears panel board concern over biomass subsidy

Environment Secretary Michael Gove has heard concerns over the impact of renewable energy subsidies for biomass fuel on the availability of feedstock for the panel board industry.

This comes as figures published this week have suggested that an increasing demand for waste wood as a fuel in biomass has led to a drop in the overall amount of processed waste wood being used a feedstock in new products, including panel board (see letsrecycle.com story).

(l-r) Stephen Kerr, MP for Stirling and chair of the APPG; Steve Roebuck, director of environmental, health and safety at Norbord, and; Environment Secretary Michael Gove (Picture: Sandy Young Photography scottishphotographer.com)

A Scot by birth, Mr Gove headed to Scotland last week and visited the manufacturing site operated by Norbord, in Cowie, Stirlingshire where the company manufacturers a range of panel board products. Board-grade recycled wood is among the feedstocks used by Norbord.

During the visit, the company raised concerns over the potential for a ‘dramatic’ reduction in the availability of waste and virgin wood due to an increasing demand for material to be used as a fuel in biomass.

“The strain on the UK’s wood basket is being exacerbated by renewable energy subsidies and is creating real uncertainty for wood panel manufacturers while endangering the supply of key materials in the construction and house building sectors,” Norbord said.

Commenting on the visit, Steve Roebuck, director of environmental, health and safety at Norbord, said: “I’m very pleased that Mr Gove took time to visit our site and listen to Norbord’s concerns. He certainly took on board our message that the UK’s wood supply is now at a critical point due to demand from heavily subsidised biomass for energy.

“We’re not against the use of wood for energy, but continuing to use subsidy to drive wood towards energy is putting undue pressure on our domestic wood supply. This threatens industries, such as construction and furniture manufacture, which rely on wood panels and sequester carbon for generations.”

ROCs

Subsidies including the Renewable Obligations Certificate scheme (ROCs) have helped to provide an incentive for a number of biomass plants – including those burning waste wood – to come into operation in recent years. The ROCs scheme offers energy providers a fixed price for electricity per MWh they produce, based on the renewable technology they use.

The panel board manufacturing sector, led by the Wood Panel Industries Federation has long argued that subsidies for biomass fuel will come at the cost of wood recycling.

“We’re not against the use of wood for energy, but continuing to use subsidy to drive wood towards energy is putting undue pressure on our domestic wood supply.”


Steve Roebuck
Norbord

The organisation has called on the government not to renew the scheme when many of the agreements come to an end in 2021.

Members of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for the wood panel industry, led by Stephen Kerr the MP for Stirling, also accompanied Mr Gove on the visit to the site at Cowie. The APPG is backing the industry’s call for an end to the biomass subsidy.

Following the visit, Mr Kerr said: “This industry has the capability to increase production to meet the UK’s demand for wood panel products and to do so with no reliance on imports of wood from elsewhere in the world. However, this is only possible if it has enough wood to sustain and grow its manufacturing capability.”

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