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Public debate on biomass reaches critical mass in the Netherlands

9 July 2020

Public debate on biomass reaches critical mass in the Netherlands

In the Netherlands, the tense public and political debate that has simmered for almost a decade may now be reaching a conclusion. This debate has centred mostly around the perverse effects of importing vast amounts of wood from overseas for combustion in coal-fired power stations, and the high level of continuous subsidies involved. 

Already in 2013, the Energy Agreement for Sustainable Growth provided a 25 PetaJoules cap on the level of biomass used in coal-fired power stations, as well as a framework for sustainability criteria that it said to be the most advanced in the EU. But public concerns have only risen further. 

The concern gained momentum in 2019, when the Dutch Government announced that it had reserved an additional EUR 11.4 billion for biomass installations, triggering immense pushback from a variety of stakeholders. The same year, the Netherlands confronted a ‘nitrogen crisis’ that stalled thousands of construction and infrastructure projects. This put the planned increase in biomass installations in an increasingly difficult position. 

In 2020, the public debate about biomass has seemingly peaked and – possibly – reached a conclusion. Several local activist groups and institutions, including the Advisory Commission on the nitrogen crisis, raised red flags about the continuous use of and support for forest biomass, while a newspaper poll showed that 98 per cent of readers favour ending subsidies for forest biomass. Political groups and government support for further restrictions quickly followed. Leaked recommendations from the Social Economic Council included clear language on biomass: end subsidies, phase-out biomass use for energy, and prioritise its use for materials and substitution in the chemical sector. 

In the Netherlands, opposition to the use of forest biomass is not going away, even with sustainability criteria in place. The public continues to be concerned about greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution, resource inefficiency, subsidy-dependency, biomass’ limited place in a long-term energy transition, and the need to protect biodiversity. 

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Categories: Bioenergy

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