With the Energy Bill going through its last parliamentary stages and proposals for the non-domestic Renewable Heat Incentive tariff currently out for consultation, the UK’s package of measures aimed at meeting the EU’s 2020 renewable energy targets is virtually in place.

Much of our concern and recent media attention has focused on large-scale power generation for reasons which still remain, ie. there are no assurances that these subsidised energy companies won’t substantially target the UK’s commercial coniferous stands for fuel. However, if pressure on the domestic resource is going to increase to the point where it jeopardises established wood processors, it will come from the cumulative impact of demand from both renewable electricity and renewable heat. Renewable heat, in particular, provides an opportunity for domestic growers and indeed wood processors, but placing a reliance on market pull to bring more wood to market, particularly from private growers, may not be enough on its own to prevent a disproportionate demand being placed on the coniferous resource.

Something we shouldn’t lose sight of is that policy measures in place today are only just the start. Governments are in discussion with the European Commission regarding the 2030 renewables targets. The energy companies are already lobbying to make an even larger contribution from biomass (wood). If the flow of wood from material uses towards energy is to be controlled, then collectively the woodprocessing industries must continue with efforts to speak up for the carbon benefits that using more wood products brings.

The recently confirmed EU carbon accounting rules open a door for the development of policies that actively promote the use of harvested wood products, but it is not a given that such policies will emerge, not least because competitors are fighting to oppose such benefits being bestowed on wood. These challenges may seem to be remote and some way off but they are very real, and a robust industry defence has to be put up if wood products are not to be sidelined in the future.