The use of biomass will be carefully controlled and gaps in emissions legislation filled, under a new Clean Air Strategy published by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
Air quality is a devolved responsibility but some major contributors to pollution – like the increased use of biomass – are consistent across the UK.
The use of biomass at large and small scale – from coal plant conversion to an increase in domestic open fires – has affected air quality and the government proposes to tackle that. It will consult on making coal-to-biomass power plant conversions ineligible for contracts for difference.
It highlights areas where it aims to mitigate and minimise the air quality impact of installations supported under the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI), including data sharing between environmental regulators and piloting a cross-agency joint enforcement programme. It promised to respond to a recent consultation on banning new RHI biomass applications installed in urban areas which are on the gas grid, as well as introducing mandatory maintenance checks for those installations already accredited.
The use of anaerobic digesters to produce gas for electricity generation or injection into the gas grid will also come under scrutiny, to ensure that emissions of ammonia from the process are controlled.
The government is also considering small power plant. It may impose tighter emissions standards on medium combustion plants and generators, and close the regulatory gap between the current ecodesign and medium combustion plant regulations to tackle emissions from plants in the 500kW to 1MW thermal input range.
It will review existing guidance on emission controls at smaller industrial sites and consider whether further action is needed. This will include a review of the current local authority permitting system, including fees and charges.
In transport, the government has asked the industry to set up a taskforce that will look at how to decarbonise the rail industry. It aims to removing all diesel-only trains by 2040 ‘and will require embracing new technologies and innovative ideas, potentially pursuing the use of alternative energy sources such as hydrogen and batteries.”
The strategy recognised that there would be a falloff in scrutiny and enforcement mechanisms provided by EU institutions after Brexit. It promised a new, independent statutory body to hold government to account which “may, subject to consultation, have a role in the scrutiny of air quality policy and any other strategies relating to air quality”. It promised a review of progress in 2022.