The U.K. government recently opened a public consultation on a proposal that would alter the Renewable Heat Incentive to exclude further support for biomass installations in urban areas on the gas grid. The U.K. Renewable Energy Association has spoken out against the proposal, calling it too restrictive and stressing that policy should be focused on improving standards.

The U.K. Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy opened the consultation on Oct. 16. It closes on Nov. 27.

Information released by the BEIS explains that Defra’s Clean Air Strategy, published in May 2018, proposed that further support under the RHI should not be available for biomass installations in urban areas with access to the gas grid. The consultation published by the BEIS contains details of the proposed restrictions and asked for input on the scope and nature of those changes to RHI eligibility.

Within the 21-page consultation document, the BEIS explains the change would apply to new RHI applications starting when the new regulations come into force, including domestic and non-domestic biomass boiler installations of all sizes, along with biomass combined-heat-and-power installations. The restrictions, however, would not apply to existing RHI biomass boiler installations or to biogas RHI installations. The document cites the production of fine smoke particles and other air pollutants as the reasoning behind the action.

The REA said the proposal would limit options for decarbonizing heat. If enacted, the group said the proposal will stop the installation of highly efficient and clean biomass boiler technologies from benefitting those in urban areas. According to the REA, modern biomass boilers are already strictly regulated, ensuring their emissions are tightly controlled, with more than 75 percent of boiler models emitting less than one-third of their legal limits.

“The latest proposed reforms to the RHI risks being a knee-jerk policy reaction to the air quality crisis,” said Neil Harrison, chair of the Wood Heat Association. “The industry has lobbied for many years for actions to ensure the very safest levels of emissions from biomass boilers in all parts of the U.K., not just urban areas. Modern biomass boilers, fitted with high-performance filters, achieve particulate emissions equivalent to that of conventional fossil fuelled boilers, while making significant carbon savings.

“The government should be promoting and enforcing quality standards, rather than applying a blanket ban. Such a ban would cut off one of the key options for the decarbonization of heat in larger public and private sector buildings, and would ignore experience from every other developed country which has seen the successful deployment of biomass heating across their economy,” Harrison continued.

Urban air quality can be best minimized by addressing the much more significant emissions coming from transport and properly enforcing controls provided by Smoke Control Zones and other existing legislation,” he said.

Additional information on the consultation is available on the BEIS website.