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The Dutch have decided: Burning biomass is not sustainable

The Netherlands should phase out the use of biomass for generating electricity as soon as possible, the advisory board of the Dutch government said in a report presented earlier this month.

24th July 2020

Biomass is an “indispensable” resource for the circular economy, but burning it is wasteful.

That is the main message of the report issued on 8 July by the Socio-Economic Council (SER), an independent advisory board of the Dutch government consisting of entrepreneurs, employees and independent experts.

In the chemical industry, the building sector and agriculture, biological materials are crucial for the transition to a circular economy, the council writes. But sustainably produced biomass is too scarce to keep using it for the production of heat or electricity, for which other low-carbon and renewable alternatives exist, the report states.

Accordingly, the billions worth of subsidies that were intended for biomass combustion plants should be phased out as well, the advisors say, calling however for measures to preserve “investment security” when designing a phase-out plan.

This means compensation should be handed out to companies who stand to lose out from the abrupt end of bioenergy subsidies.

“In case of a faster phase-out than companies and employees could have reasonably foreseen, compensation for investments, labour consequences and social consequences is appropriate,” the document states.

The ball is now in the court of the Dutch government, which will use the advice to construct a national “sustainability framework” for bio-resources due to be presented after the summer.

The new framework will “expand on existing criteria” laid down in the EU’s Renewable Energy Directive to design “widely supported and coherent criteria on the sustainable production and use of biomass” in the Netherlands.

The new policy is intended to improve the country’s alignment with long-term climate goals, including the EU’s objective of reaching net-zero emissions by 2050.

In anticipation of the government’s new policy, Swedish energy company Vattenfall has already decided to postpone construction of a planned biomass plant in Diemen.

“For Vattenfall it is essential that the Dutch government proposes a clear sustainability framework,” the company said in a statement.

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