Green energy plant 'not carbon neutral for 40 years'
THE new "green energy" biomass plant proposed for Leith would take at least 40 years to become carbon neutral, according to a new study.
In the meantime, critics claim, the 360 million plant would actually set back Scotland's drive to cut carbon emissions.
A report by the Manomet Centre for Conservation Sciences in Massachusetts, US, said burning wood for power generation had generally been seen as "carbon neutral" because new trees would be planted to replace those used in the process. But it said a more complex picture was emerging, with the time taken for trees to grow meaning the creation of a "carbon debt" which would last for decades.
It said: "For biomass replacement of coal-fired power plants, the net cumulative emissions in 2050 are approximately equal to what they would have been burning coal."
On top of that, most of the two million tonnes of biomass needed every year for the Leith plant would come in by sea from North America, Scandinavia and eastern Europe, adding further carbon emissions.
Edinburgh North & Leith Labour MSP Malcolm Chisholm has written to finance secretary John Swinney, highlighting the findings of the report.
He said: "The Manomet research suggests electricity from biomass creates a huge carbon debt which will only be repaid decades later from forest regrowth.
"Biomass fuels have a carbon footprint greater than coal burning for the first decades of their use and these are the most important decades in which to get CO2 reductions.
"Electricity from biomass would not therefore support the Scottish Government targets for defined CO2 emission cuts each year between now and 2050."
In his letter to Mr Swinney, he added: "I hope the Scottish Government will reconsider its enthusiasm for electricity from biomass in the light of this research."
Alastair Tibbitt of Greener Leith said to reach the government target of reducing carbon emissions by 80 per cent by 2050, the cuts were needed now.
"If this research is correct, burning vast quantities of biomass will do absolutely nothing to help. In fact, it will hinder."
Lothians Green MSP Robin Harper said: "The evidence increasingly shows that biomass isn't the carbon neutral magic bullet that its promoters claim it is, and that will be even more the case when a plant relies on wood imported from the Americas.
"We would be better off concentrating on using wood as a building material, not a fuel, and sticking with wind, wave and solar for power."
A spokeswoman for Forth Energy, which is proposing the plant, said the Scottish Institute of Sustainable Technology had carried out a "life-cycle" carbon footprinting study, taking into account transport of the fuels from Europe and North America, which showed biomass involved a cut of around 90 per cent of the emissions of a traditional coal-fired power station.
She added: "Scotland has ambitious renewable energy targets for 50 per cent of electricity to be generated from renewable sources by 2020 and these plants will make a significant contribution to meeting those targets."
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