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France cools on large biomass power projects

October 26, 2012, Perpignan, FR — The French government may take a less positive view on large biomass power projects, energy minister Delphine Batho said.


October 26, 2012
By Argus Media

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But Batho has reiterated her support for combined heat and power (CHP) units part financed by the country's heating fund. “The most significant difficulty as regards biomass, are the questions being posed over problems of how to sustainably manage the forest resource,” she told a national assembly hearing on the 2013 ministerial budget. “This all comes as a result of the situation which has been created by these bigger bid rounds for biomass units.”

Her view calls into question energy commission the CRE's bidding rounds. The previous round, in October last year, licensed 421MW of power and CHP generation capacity, more than double the expected 200MW capacity. It also boosted the average size of each new plant to 28MW from a previous average of about 12MW.

One licence granted to German utility Eon for a 150MW plant in Meyreuil, south France, will be the largest in the country on completion. But local lawmakers are questioning how the facility can sustainably source an expected 720,000 t/yr of feedstock from surrounding forest land. The four CRE bid rounds have approved 1.13GW of capacity in total and at least 750MW of this is still to come on line.

Batho reiterated her support for bidding rounds run by energy management agency Ademe, under the auspices of the heating fund. She promised on 3 July, in her debut address as minister, to ring-fence heating fund coffers for biomass units. The five Ademe bidding rounds have licensed about 1.1GW of capacity.

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“We have got to the point where the units run under the heating fund, operating locally in towns and villages, are at a very strong level,” Batho said. “But it is now clear that biomass power is more attuned principally to these local heating networks and to cogeneration.”

Creating procurement chains for wood will be the major problem for the industry in France, she said. The country has been increasing its forest area in recent years, but there are many small landowners, making large-scale wood harvesting more difficult. Just over half of French woodland — 5.4mn hectares (54,000km²) — is held in parcels of less than 25 hectares, spread over 3.4mn plots. Batho will start working alongside agriculture minister Stephane Le Foll and industrial renewal minister Arnaud Montebourg, to create a wider wood management system.

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