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France grapples with biomass supply

June 26, 2013, Paris - The rapid expansion of France's biomass combined heat and power network shows that the country remains likely to import wood feedstock by 2020.


June 26, 2013
By Argus Media

But the continued lack of an effective supply chain to
provide a projected 3GW of capacity with sufficient feedstock is creating
tensions within the domestic industry.

"The advances we need in the industry are not technological,
they are about organization," said Francois Lambert, lawmaker and assistant
rapporteur to the French assembly on biomass energy. "We need a program for
wood procurement for energy that is adapted to the resources that are actually
available, not one disconnected from reality."

Difficulties have arisen over the past five years as the
state has successfully subsidized the construction of power plants and CHP
units managed by energy regulator CRE and energy management agency Ademe.

For France to satisfy its projected capacity – much of which
is already in the development, planning and construction phases – imports are
likely to be necessary and sometimes desirable for plant operators.

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"Will wood imports be needed by 2020? Yes. We just do not
have the resources available right now," said Francois- Xavier Dugripon, French
utility GDF Suez subsidiary Cofely's energy purchases director. "But I hope the
end effects will be marginal and the imports of wood will act as an incentive
for the domestic wood supply market. And when those imports come, they will be
wood pellets. There is no point in shipping wood chip as it is not dense
enough."

Imports could come from nearby EU nations, with Scandinavian
and eastern European countries likely suppliers, especially for French units
situated close to ports.

But waiting for France's domestic supply industry to provide
enough wood may not be enough in itself, according to Ademe director-general
Virginie Schwarz.

"Biomass certainly poses questions over procurement if we
are not to cut down all France's forests," she said. "But this needs to go hand
in hand with reduced energy consumption."

The primary problems for procurement are political concerns
over strains on French forest cover coupled with the effects on existing timber
industries, according to speakers at a bioenergy conference in Paris this week.
Different departments and regions are giving varied signals over biomass power
planning, as well as feedstock procurement.


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