Six primary schools in Calderdale – St Mary’s, Beech Hill, Old Earth, West Vale, Ash Green and St Chad’s – are to install biomass boilers to replace their aging oil and gas boilers. In reply to a Freedom of Information request, Calderdale Council said that the biomass boilers were to be installed over the summer of 2012.
Calderdale Council’s Energy Officer, Daniel Knight, explained to the Calderdale Cabinet Council meeting on 12th March that, “These are the first biomass installations in schools in Calderdale. It makes sense economically and in carbon reduction terms. If successful, it’ll create a precedent for much more biomass in Calderdale.”
Biomass boilers fuelled by recycled wood pellets made in Yorkshire
Calderdale Council’s Economy and Environment Directorate report, Funding for Biomass in Schools, states, “Biomass offers a carbon neutral way to produce heat and potentially over 400 tonnes of carbon emissions will be negated ” each year by heating the six schools with biomass boilers.
Authoritative studies of biomass heat and power and electricity generation (like the Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences’ 2010 “Biomass Sustainability and Carbon Policy Study” and Greenpeace Canada’s Fuelling a BioMess – Why Burning Trees for Energy Will Harm People, the Climate and Forests ) show that the only wood fuels that are likely to be carbon neutral are those produced from waste forest wood that would otherwise have decomposed and emitted greenhouse gases anyway.
The six primary school boilers will use wood pellets made from recycled wood at a Dalkia-owned mill in Pollington, North Yorkshire, and supplied through the Yorkshire Purchasing Organisation. This will cut the schools’ heating costs by about half.
Head of the YPO Energy Team, Tony Wood, says, “ Yorkshire schools in former coal mining areas currently burn 16k tons of coal a year. The Pollington mill could supply them all with recycled wood pellets if they switched to biomass boilers – even though you need to burn more biomass than coal to get the same heat. Biomass has a slightly lower calorific value than coal.”
Are recycled wood pellets really carbon neutral?
“Characterisation of construction and demolition waste as a ‘renewable’ or ‘ carbon neutral fuel is…objectionable, particularly given that actual recycling and re-use of processed wood is a far ‘greener’ use that actually saves the greenhouse gas costs of producing new materials”, according to the Environmental Working Group’s 2010 report, Clearcut Disaster: Carbon Loophole Threatens US Forests (p 36).
The Solid Waste Section Chief of the Springfield, Massachusetts Bureau of Waste Prevention confirms, “Considering the greenhouse gas footprint of manufactured wood products, a better…use of this wood would be in recycled wood products.”
The Dalkia mill uses Grade A waste wood to make recycled wood pellets. The Defra/Waste Infrastructure Delivery Programme 2008 Market Information Report- Waste Wood as a Biomass Fuel, identifies Grade A waste wood as highly suitable for recycling. It points out that the waste hierarchy is:
- energy recovery/incineration
But Daniel Knight, Calderdale Council’s Energy Officer, points out that “It boils down to commercial value – waste wood that’s commercially valuable gets reused and recycled and the low value wood gets burned for heat or power. A lot of the waste wood that’s burned for energy recovery is sawdust that can’t be re-used.”
The Environmental Working Group’s Clearcut Disaster Report cites a 2009 memo from the Massachusetts Dept of Environmental Protection to the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs that says “it is highly unlikely” that it is possible to “make an acceptable demonstration that construction and demolition is a source of carbon neutral fuel. It would be difficult, if not impossible, to provide a reliable carbon neutral life-cycle analysis that includes consideration of material source, harvesting practices, transportation, impact of any coatings or treatments applied, and land use changes. At this time, it is unclear how such an analysis would even be done and evaluated” (p36)
Daniel Knight explains that waste wood used to make recycled wood pellets is a carbon neutral fuel because wood in the UK is sustainably produced. Under the UK Forestry Standard, which all forestry managers must follow, it’s normally a legal requirement to restock after felling or thinning. “If you’re burning wood straight away once it’s been felled, the tree would be replaced and the new tree would absorb the carbon emissions from burning the felled tree. Any felling that takes place in the UK requires new trees to be planted,” Daniel affirms. “But the Dalkia wood pellet plant doesn’t directly replace the wood it burns.”
£6m public investment in Dalkia Bioenergy wood pellet mill
One of the biggest wood pellet mills in England, Dalkia Bioenergy’s Pollington mill started operations in 2009. It was built with around £6m of government funding, in a joint investment of over £8 million from the regional development agency Yorkshire Forward (together with its low carbon business support organisation CO2 Sense), and the giant international energy services company Dalkia. Dalkia is owned by Veolia (a worldwide environmental services company) and EDF (one of the big six energy companies in the UK).
Creating a market for recycled wood pellets
CO2 Sense remains the local partner with the Dalkia mill. Apart from channelling public investment into the mill, CO2 Sense’s main role in its partnership with Dalkia has been to create the market for the wood pellets – both in terms of establishing a supply of recycled wood to the mill, and creating demand from customers.
CO2 Sense works with local authorities to help them recycle their waste wood to the mill, instead of sending it to landfill. It also works with local authorities to help them switch to biomass heating, using the recycled wood pellets. CO2 Sense describes this as connecting supply to demand, part of its work in creating “an alternative energy market”. CO2 Sense is supporting Calderdale Council’s installation of biomass boilers in primary schools by helping to design the system, at a cost of about £1500 for each installation.
As well as the wood pellet mill, there is a new 100 acre waste wood processing facility at Pollington. Once the waste wood is sorted, about 10% is suitable for turning into wood pellets.
When it reaches its full capacity, the wood pellet mill will produce 100 k tonnes of recycled wood pellets, and the waste wood processing facility will generate another 250kt of recycled wood products like animal bedding; lower quality biofuel for Combined Heat and Power and electricity generation plants; chipboard; particle board and compost.
Renewable Heat Incentive subsidy will give Calderdale Council over £1million “profit” from installing biomass boilers
Calderdale Council Cabinet approved the use of prudential borrowing to fund the installation of the six biomass boilers, which will cost the Council around £550,000, plus £230,000 borrowing costs. Thanks to the central government’s Renewable Heat Incentive subsidy, which is funded out of general taxation, the biomass boilers will earn the Council £2.1million over 20 years. In eight years, the Council, as owner of the biomass boilers, will have repaid the cost of purchasing and installing them. It will then share the subsidy payment “profits” of over £1million with the schools.
Because the biomass boilers are considered to be carbon neutral, they will save the 400 tonnes of carbon a year that the primary schools’ oil and gas boilers currently emit. When Calderdale Council Cabinet decided to go ahead with the biomass boilers, they thought these carbon savings would allow Calderdale Council to save about £4,800 (400 tonnes x £12) each year on the carbon penalty it has to pay the government, through the Carbon Reduction Commitment. But later, it turned out that this wasn’t the case.
Through the current phase of the Renewable Heat Incentive, central government pays industrial, business and public sector organisations a long term subsidy for using renewable heat.
From October 2012, households not heated by mains gas will be eligible for grants from the Renewable Heat Premium Payment Scheme, to install air-source and ground source heat pumps, biomass boilers and solar thermal – subject to certain criteria and conditions.