Here’s a graph that tells a sad story. Some member states are still massively dependent on burning wood for home heating, even as wood-burning is the largest source of particulate pollution in the EU, responsible for about 1,000 premature deaths per day. Wood-burning, literally a stone-age technology, still dominates the EU’s renewable energy line-up as well.

Data from Eurostat, energy use for household space heating

People burning wood for energy are getting doubly shafted by the EU’s biomass policy. On the one hand, energy poverty is a serious problem in the EU. People generally burn wood as their main source of heating because they need to. EU policy incentivizing biomass energy makes it more expensive for those people to buy wood for heating because they have to compete with large-scale wood-burning power plants that are benefiting from renewable energy subsidies. The EU spends around €17 billion a year in taxpayer funds supporting bioenergy, with wood-burning power plants getting the lion’s share. A single 50 MW biomass electricity plant burns as much wood per year as, on average, 180,000 homes – while raking in millions in subsidies (for instance, a 50 MW plant would receive around €16 million in taxpayer-funded subsidies per year at a subsidy of €40 per megawatt-hour).

But precisely because member states do subsidize those mega-power plants, there’s less financial support for cleaner renewable home heating technologies like solar thermal and heat pumps – which as the graph above shows, lag far behind biomass as a source of heating. Solar thermal barely even shows up on the chart. So people are locked into continuing to burn wood – while EU policymakers congratulate themselves on setting ever more “ambitious” renewable energy targets. Just don’t ask how much of that renewable energy is built on the back of forests, human health, and the climate.

The EU Parliament should vote to remove forest biomass from the Renewable Energy Directive. The single best way to reduce CO2 emissions and air pollution, as well as take pressure off forests that are logged for fuel, is to immediately remove incentives for wood-burning, and reallocate those funds to truly clean energy.

It’s time to transfer billions in biomass subsidies to heat pumps and solar
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