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Biomass Energy

Biomass is fuel derived from plant material. Although CO2 is released into the atmosphere when plant material is burnt, an equivalent amount will have been taken from the atmosphere during growth.

The carbon in biomass fuel does not therefore increase atmospheric greenhouse gasses (although its cultivation, transport and combustion do involve some additional emissions) and, when it is used in the place of fossil fuels, a net reduction in carbon emissions is achieved.

Unlike most other renewable energy sources biomass can be stored and used on demand to give controllable energy. It is also a potential source of heat as well as electricity.

Tractor harvesting its crops
Harvesting biomass crops © Historic England

Our position on biomass

Historic England welcomes the Government's commitment to increasing the supply of biomass from alternative sources, including forestry waste and crop residues, alongside energy crops.

The improved management of existing woodland may deliver benefits for the landscape and historic environment.

Biomass for fuel can be gathered or grown. The principal biomass fuel sources include:

  • Waste from forestry and timber processing
  • Biodegradable waste, including municipal and agricultural waste
  • Crop residues, such as straw; and
  • Energy crops, which are grown specifically for the purpose of energy generation.

Biomass can be burned in suitably adapted traditional coal-fired power stations (so-called 'co-firing') or in specialised biomass facilities designed for the production of electricity, heat, or combined heat and power.

The benefits of energy crops in terms of reducing carbon emissions and supporting agricultural diversification need to be balanced against potentially negative effects, in some locations, on the historic character of the landscape and the survival of archaeological remains.

Crops with trees in the background
Field of Miscanthus, biomass crop

Our advice

Biomass Energy and the Historic Environment (December 2006) is aimed at developers of biomass energy projects, which may affect any aspect of the historic environment.

It is also aimed at those, including local authority planners and their historic environment advisers, involved in strategic planning for renewable energy, in the determination of project specific applications, and in the grant-aiding of new projects.

This document sets out our policy on renewable energy and the historic environment.  We believe a pro-active and strategic approach to the land-use planning system will maximise the benefits of renewable energy projects, while minimising their adverse effects on the historic environment.

This should be achieved by: considering the cumulative effects of projects as well as their specific impacts; by ensuring that the implications of renewable energy developments are adequately reflected in national, regional and local planning policy and at all stages of the environmental impact assessment process.

We also believe that high quality design should play a key role in minimising any adverse effects of projects. Fundamental to achieving high quality design will be a sound understanding of the character and importance of the historic asset involved, whether at the scale of individual buildings and sites or more extensive historic areas and landscapes.

Biomass Energy and the Historic Environment also covers the following areas:

  • Introduction to biomass technology and energy crops
  • Summary of the planning framework for renewable energy
  • Energy crops and environmental impact assessment
  • Energy crops and the potential impact on archaeological sites
  • Energy crops and the potential impact on the setting of historic sites

Mature Willow, biomass crop
Mature Willow, biomass crop

Our recommendations on best practice

  • The implications for the historic environment of biomass energy developments should be reflected in Regional Spatial Strategies, Local Development Frameworks and Supplementary Planning Documents
  • The effects of biomass energy programmes and projects on the historic environment should be evaluated in all levels of environmental impact assessment
  • Consideration of the historic environment should include World Heritage Sites; marine, coastal and terrestrial archaeology; historic buildings and areas; designed landscapes; and the historic character of the wider landscape
  • The significance of internationally and nationally designated sites should be safeguarded and physical damage to other historic sites should be avoided
  • The impact of biomass energy projects on the setting and visual amenity of historic places and landscapes should also be considered
  • Where biomass energy developments affect historic sites, national planning policies on the historic environment should be taken into account
  • Local Authority Historic Environment Records should be consulted at an early stage in project planning.

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