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.

Biomass supply

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.

Taking a strategic approach

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.