Woodfuel potential stifled

Woodfuel could make a major contribution and transform the rural economy by providing a long-term sustainable industry, according to the Country Land and Business Association.

Woodfuel could make a major contribution and transform the rural economy by providing a long-term sustainable industry, according to the Country Land and Business Association.

"It is also an increasing scandal that Britain lags behind Europe in schemes to promote woodfuel and boilers," said the CLA's chief surveyor, Oliver Harwood, who leads on renewable energy.

He said that there must be a simpler and more user-friendly grant scheme to encourage installation of larger-scale boilers capable of heating schools, buildings and even factories, groups of homes and offices.

"Why we cannot follow the example in Austria where grants are easily available for woodfuel boilers, we just cannot understand. They have installed 26,000 boilers," he added.

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In the latest round of grant applications, only 25 of a total of 75 schemes were accepted in this country, said Mr Harwood, who said that the CLA has been trying for years to persuade Whitehall of the advantages of woodfuels.

North Norfolk landowner Roger Combe, who has a 60 kilowatt woodchip boiler to heat Bayfield Hall and a converted stable block, which houses an antique and design centre, has an open day on Thursday afternoon.

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With funding from the Norfolk Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty Sustainable Development Fund, he has installed a second woodchip boiler - 100 kilowatt - to heat a new 20,000 sq ft office and workshop conversion, recently opened by North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb.

The CLA is staging the event with Anglia Woodfuels, which is a co-operative formed to facilitate the use of wood heating. It has just ended its first financial year.

Nicola Currie, CLA eastern region director, said: "On Britain's private estates, millions of tonnes of fuel are waiting to be harvested. An untapped source that is going to waste because it is in the form of low grade timber and is part of the nation's 650,000 hectares of unmanaged woodland."

The programme will cover the installation, grant availability, cost-effectiveness, performance, the reduction in carbon emissions, woodland management benefits and the continuous local supply of woodchip.

Gary Battell, woodland advisor to Anglia Woodfuels, said: "Woodfuel heating in Europe has become the norm and with 21st century technology, woodfuel boilers are proving extremely efficient."

"Added to which, the process is carbon neutral because when wood is burned it only puts back into the atmosphere the carbon dioxide it absorbed when it was growing.

"After allowing for CO2 emissions involved in planting, processing and transportation, woodfuel reduces emissions by over 90pc when compared with gas or oil.

"Woodfuel also provides a market for low grade timber, giving an incentive for better woodland management which benefits wildlife and the environment. There is plenty of woodland in Norfolk giving a local, sustainable source of fuel."

Mr Battell said big changes could take place in the next 12 months.

"It is very dependent on more money coming forward for capital grants.

"At the moment, it is a lottery and a gamble. No one really knows if they will get a grant or not. I think that is unacceptable and has to change."

"If it does change, then I think that things will happen very, very quickly. There is no two ways about it."

The Forestry Commission has made it quite clear that the driver for the industry, locally and regionally, will be the grant to install boilers, he added.

To attend the open day contact Ali Mobbs at Anglia Woodfuels on 01603 730050 or e-mail her on: ali.mobbs@angliafarmers.co.uk.


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