Sustainable Biomass Agreement. Annual Report 2020

One of the provisions of the Sustainable Biomass Agreement (in short, the Agreement) signed up to by Dutch energy producers and environmental NGOs in 2015 states that efforts and results be reported annually by an independent body. The present report by CE Delft is for 2020 and reviews biomass use that year, compliance with sustainability criteria, progress on the Agreement’s incentive scheme and progress on the so-called minimum-growth and high-ambition paths. This year the October 2020 verdict of the arbitration committee was also taken on board in interpreting the results.

The data used in this report were provided by the energy producers and the Dutch Biomass Certification Foundation, DBC. The company data was confidential and detailed at the level of individual supply contracts. Given competition rules, these data are reported in aggregated form and sometimes in qualitative wording (e.g. ‘the majority’) rather than as exact figures.

Biomass use
A total of 2,261,804 tonnes of biomass was used for direct and indirect co-firing of Dutch coal plants in 2020. This is over 2.7 times as much as in 2019 and translates to around 18.6 PJ energy output (power + heat). in 2020 93.9% of the biomass used consisted of wood pellets. Of the total biomass used for direct and indirect co-firing in 2020, 92% by mass consisted of biogenic residues and waste (Category 5) and 8% of woody biomass from forestry stands <500 ha (Category 2). Of the 8% Category 2 biomass, 89% was in the subcategory ‘risk-based method’, with the remaining 11% certified biomass. North America was the main biomass source in 2020 (45%), with a little over a third supplied from within the EU (36%). A further 16% was from non-EU European countries (incl. Russia), 2% from South America and 1% from Asia.

Statutory and non-statutory sustainability criteria
There was 100% adherence to the statutory sustainability criteria in 2020, as reported in the RVO compliance overview. Following the line of the arbitration committee’s verdict and thus applying the so-called ‘interim arrangement’, all Category 2 biomass (i.e. 8% of all biomass used) satisfied the non-statutory criteria in 2020.

Progress on growth towards FSC or equivalent certification at forest stand level
According to our interpretation of the Agreement’s wording, pledges on minimum growth towards statutory requirements were not honoured in 2020, because there was 0% proof of the sustainability of Category 2 biomass certified at forest stand level. If the energy producers’ interpretation is followed instead, pledges were honoured, because in their view the risk-based approach is entirely legitimate. Producers have said they deem it unworkable to operate under two systems in parallel (the SDE+ renewable energy subsidy scheme and this Agreement) and that there is not enough biomass available certified at the stand level, which is why they have adopted the SDE+ track.

Applying the arbitration committee’s line (on the ‘interim arrangement’) to the growth path, too, and taking the energy producers’ line on the risk-based approach being justifiably included, the conclusion must be that both companies honoured their pledges with respect to the growth path, except for the Chain of Custody criteria, for the non-statutory criteria, too, because 79.6% (18,2+61.4%) is more than the minimum growth path.

However, applying the arbitration committee’s line (on the ‘interim arrangement’) in tandem with its interpretation of the Agreement’s wording that stand-level certification is all that counts, one of the energy companies is on track on the growth path, while for the other the information provided is insufficient for reliable assessment on this point.

This conclusion does not mean the terms of the Agreement have not been met, because realisation of the growth path is formulated in terms of effort.

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