Future Energy Union: Leaning towards limiting the role of biomass?

20 March 2018

In February 2015, the European Commission presented its Communication on the Energy Union Package. While these plans are still to be discussed by EU heads of state at the European Council meeting, 19 - 20 March, the text already hints at what the Commission is aiming for.

Regarding the use of biomass for energy (for biofuels and for power and heating), the document contains a number of relevant notions, e.g. relating to promoting waste for energy or state aid for renewable energy. Most importantly however, the document states that the EU needs to “take into account the impact of bioenergy on the environment, land-use and food production.” To this end the Commission will propose a new Renewable Energy Package in 2016 - 17, including a new policy for sustainable biomass and biofuels.

The Commission thus seems to be inching in the right direction. Environmental NGOs have been calling for biomass sustainability criteria since the introduction of the 2009 Renewable Energy Directive, and NGO concerns regarding sustainability of biomass use for energy have proven justified in the interim. Crucially, any proposed policy must limit biomass use for power and heating to levels that can be sustainably supplied by Europe domestically, and only in so far as climate benefits are proven.

It is therefore interesting that the Communication also includes plans to start in-depth discussions with Member States on application of the Environmental and Energy State Aid Guidelines, and states that “investment decisions in renewable electricity have to take into account the physical realities of resource availability.”We can only guess how this will be interpreted, but the fact that the Commission recently opened an in-depth investigation into proposed state aid for a 420 MW biomass plant in the UK might be a hopeful sign that the sustainability of bioenergy is at last being considered.

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