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Region left standing in biofuel race

PUBLISHED: 09:25 16 June 2006 | UPDATED: 11:01 22 October 2010

East Anglia's cereal growers are stalled on the starting grid as Europe races ahead in the drive to produce crops for a new generation of environmentally-friendly fuel, a farmers' leader has warned.

East Anglia's cereal growers are stalled on the starting grid as Europe races ahead in the drive to produce crops for a new generation of environmentally-friendly fuel, a farmers' leader has warned.

Peter Kendall, president of the National Farmers' Union, said environment secretary David Miliband had to seize the opportunity to champion “green fuel” pro-duction across all Whitehall departments and create a “dynamic biofuel industry”.

“We have a genuine opportunity to build a biofuels industry in the UK. We need somebody who is going to drive the climate change and renewable agenda across all government departments,” he told farmers at the Cereals' trade event near Lincoln.

France, Austria and Germany are already volume producers of green fuels to reduce carbon and greenhouse vehicle gas emissions, because long-term production goals have been set by national governments.

But Britain risked being left behind, said Mr Kendall.

“There is a real indication that with the right signals, we can have a strong and dynamic biofuel industry. It is a shame for us because we are at the bottom of the league in production in Europe... We are massively behind the rest of Europe and the rest of the world on biofuels.”

Mr Kendall said that while the NFU welcomed the government's decision to impose a 5pc renewable fuel obligation from 2008, it left Britain in the slow lane for green fuel production.

“The rest of Europe and the rest of the world can make the economics stack up. What is preventing the delivery and the investment decisions in the UK at this moment in time?” he said.

“France has set a 10pc target of renewable energy from 2015. Austria will have 50pc of their energy from renewable resources by 2020. The Germans have a renewable energy law that will have will have 10,000 biogas plants - with guaranteed long-term prices for renewable energy until 2027.”

Last night, former Agriculture Minister Lady Shephard, who chairs the eastern region's Bio-Fuels Form, echoed Mr Kendall's concerns, saying: “We have been more than disappointed with the lack of progress.”

The former South-West Norfolk MP said that members of the forum, who have been campaigning for several years to promote green fuel production, would seek a meeting with Mr Miliband.

“He sounds much more enthusiastic about the issue than his predecessor Margaret Beckett…However, I think that the biggest objection seems to be come from the Treasury,” she added.

Although there are plans for plants on Teeside and another 100,000 tonne biodiesl plant at Immingham on the Humber, which starts production in December, there is only one UK biodiesel currently plant running - at Motherwell in Scotland.

Mr Kendall, who was elected to the NFU's top post three months ago, welcomed encouraging comments by new Environment Secretary Mr Miliband. But farmers were champing at the bit, he said, to grow crops to produce biodiesel from oilseed rape - and bioethanol from wheat and sugar beet - which could be processed into green fuels.

British Sugar's bioethanol plant at Wissington, near Downham Market, will come on stream next spring producing green fuel from surplus beet but it represents a drop in the ocean.

The East of England Development Agency (Eeda) has calculated that about 12,000 jobs could be created in the region to process, transport and produce fuel if a dozen plants were built to meet the UK's 5pc target.

“I find it quite difficult to understand that when you see such dramatic investment occurring globally that we are having to wait and see significant moves on biofuels in the UK,” Mr Kendall said.

“We need somebody who is going to drive the climate change/ renewable agenda across all government departments. I want to flag up the real dangers that if we get this wrong, we could snatch defeat from the jaws of victory on biofuels.

He said that the announcement of the 5pc Renewable Fuels Obligation last autumn was seen as an “encouraging” start.


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