Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Rogue traders and ash dieback - bad advice or rogue trading?

We are hearing of reports from Trading Standards that some "rogue traders" are incorrectly advising householders that because of the ash dieback disease, the ash tree on their property must be felled or pruned. 

Tree owners are not currently required to take any particular action such as felling the infected ash tree, unless a statutory Plant Health Notice has been served on the owner. A Plant Health Notice can only be issued by the Forestry Commission or other plant health authority such as FERA.

It is not clear yet whether this alert has arisen due to well meaning advice that has been misconstrued or if actual rogue trading has occurred.  Either way tree owners are not obliged to undertake any action with ash trees regardless of whether they are infected or not.

Chalara dieback of ash, often referred to as ash dieback is a disease of ash trees caused by a fungus. The disease causes leaf loss and dieback in affected trees and depending on the age of the tree can lead to tree death.  This BBC page is useful as an introduction to the subject.

Once infected, trees cannot be cured, but not all trees die of the infection. Young ash plants can be killed within one growing season of symptoms becoming visible, whilst older trees can survive initial attacks, although they may die after several seasons of infection.

Trading Standards advise consumers to be wary when dealing with traders at their door.

Friday, 22 February 2013

Update on Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) - Feb 2013

Here is our latest snapshot on the progress being made by the Renewable Heat Incentive.

Total installations are now approaching 1,000.  The first bio-gas and bio-methane installations are now online, including the country's first RHI accredited bio-methane plant at Poundbury on the Duchy of Cornwall estate.  Installed capacity is now at 213 megawatts.

If we look at data from previous months we can see that the rate of uptake is steady and it has taken roughly five months for the number of accredited installations to double.  This rate of progress, whilst modest, is probably a good thing for the scheme overall as more rapid acceleration (or sudden step changes) could affect Ofgem's ability to manage the scheme.

The red dotted line in the figures above and below is a simple linear trend line.  At this stage the rate of progress remains steady and the scheme should reach 350 MW of installed capacity by August 2013.

The actual heat generation from the current installations is shown in the pie chart below.  Biomass still accounts for the vast majority of all output.  

Note that the single bio-methane installation (anaerobic digestion) is already the fifth largest heat generator - a hint at the enormous potential of this technology.  It will be interesting to see how many bio-methane and bio-gas installations can be supported by the RHI given the fixed annual budgets and cost control mechanisms that are in place.

A video of the J V Energen plant at Poundbury can be viewed below.  More information can be found here.

Friday, 1 February 2013

RHI - Quarterly Update (October to December 2012). The report presents the latest statistics and gives you an overview of recent activity and administration of the scheme.

The latest quarterly report in the RHI (October to December 2012) provides the latest snapshot of progress being made:

  • 426 new applications were received between 1 October and 31 December, and 409 installations were accredited under the scheme – an 80% increase on the number of installations accredited in the previous quarter (227).
  • 72 megawatts (MW) of additional capacity was added to the scheme (of which 1.9 MW came from preliminary accreditations) during the last quarter - a 47% increase on that added within the previous quarter (49.04 MW).

  • £1.3 million in scheme payments were made - a 53% increase on those made within the previous quarter (£849,406).
  • The enquiries line is averaging over 2000 calls a month with an increase in recent months and a peak of approximately 3500 calls in November 2012.
  • Applications in the last quarter generally showed improvements in quality, and the number of applications we accredited increased by 80% from September.
In December 2012, the RHI scheme accredited its first biomethane installation located at the Duchy of Cornwall estate at Rainbarrow Farm, Poundbury. The Prince of Wales opened an Anaerobic Digester (AD) and biomethane to grid plant which will provide renewable gas direct to the local community. The plant is owned and operated by J V Energen, a joint venture between the Duchy of Cornwall, J V Farming and agri-business strategists ABP Ltd.

At maximum capacity the plant will provide enough renewable gas for 56,000 homes in the summer and 4,000 in the winter and is the first plant in the UK to inject renewable gas directly into the local gas distribution network under the RHI.

Government Forestry and Woodlands Policy Statement

Defra's response to the Independent Panel on Forestry's report has been released and it makes interesting reading.

The Panel’s report has essentially led to a refreshed Government forestry policy. It will be based around a set of priorities: protecting, improving and expanding public and private woodland assets. It also reflects key Government principles, such as economic growth, localism, deregulation, targeted government intervention and value for money.

Of great interest to this blog is the announcement of an 'action plan' led by the wood industry that will consider, among other things, the important future role played by the biomass and woodfuel markets in the management of our woodland resource.

The main headlines from the response are as follows:

  • The need to develop a new woodland culture and a resilient forestry and woodland sector,
  • The value of the Public Forest Estate, which will continue to benefit from public ownership, be held in trust for the nation and be managed by a new, operationally-independent body,
  • The importance of protecting our woodland assets,
  • The need to bring more woodland into active management and increase the extent of woodland cover in England,
  • The need to help the sector to find its voice and improve its economic performance,
  • The importance of preserving and maximising the social and environmental benefits provided by trees and woodlands, particularly in and around our towns and cities,
  • The scope for developing new markets based around a better understanding of the value and potential of our trees, woods and forests,
  • The value of retaining a skilled cadre of forestry experts within the public sector.
Exploring New Opportunities: The role of woodfuel

Defra's response recognises that local renewable heat projects have the potential to provide an economic return to owners of even small areas of woodland and can benefit many businesses involved in the wider forestry sector:
  • There are currently around 600 woodfuel supply outlets across Britain selling to local markets and there is potential to do more, provided this market is not developed at the expense of other wood processing industries and does not create unfair competition for our home grown products.
  • Undermanaged broadleaved woodland in particular could supply significant quantities of fuel without interrupting current supply chains. More effective management of our woodlands will also make a long-term contribution to our challenging climate change targets, through reducing reliance on fossil fuels and energy intensive materials.
  • With the introduction of the Renewable Heat Incentive the scope for developing new initiatives around woodfuel is growing.
To facilitate these objectives, the industry has invited Dr Peter Bonfield, OBE, Chief Executive of the Building Research Establishment (BRE), to lead the creation of a 'roadmap' (in autumn 2013) to a new and successful future for England’s forest-based supply chains. 

This will be developed in partnership with woodland owners, managers, buyers, processors, researchers, retailers, contractors, woodfuel suppliers, community groups and Government. 

Details of the organisations currently involved are on the Confor website.

A summary of the other main points are provided in the sections below.

Improving our Valuable Woodland Assets

This section of the response probably contains the most radical changes and clearly sets the policy towards economic growth:
  • Work with landowners and others to increase the amount of actively-managed woodland and review progress in five years,
  • Further reduce unnecessary regulation and red tape affecting the sector,
  • Support the sector as it develops its new industry-led Action Plan,
  • Work with the sector to explore the scope for exploiting economic opportunities, such as woodfuel markets and rural tourism,
  • Encourage, where appropriate, local government and Local Enterprise Partnerships to take advantage of the opportunities provided by Government policies to realise the potential of local woodland assets.
Specific activities around people and communities and wildlife and the natural environment will continue.

Expanding our Woodland Resource

Increase England’s woodland cover significantly to achieve greater economic, social and environmental benefits:
  • Deliver 12% woodland cover by 2060:
  • Work with the sector to find new ways of encouraging landowners to plant more trees where it best suits them and their local conditions,
  • Develop further the voluntary woodland carbon market and other sources of investment that reflect forestry’s low carbon credentials and wider public benefits to deliver a more wooded landscape,
  • Pilot an initiative to reduce burdens on landowners who want to plant woodland by clarifying where a full Environmental Statement is unlikely to be required.
Protecting our Trees, Woods and Forests

Defra will give greater priority to tree and plant health.  For example, the Living With Environmental Change (LWEC) Partnership will use £4 million of Defra funding, £0.5 million of additional Forestry Commission funding and up to £4 million additional funding from Research Councils to do in-depth research into tree diseases to inform the way outbreaks are handled in the future.

Governance and Structures

Defra plans to simplify current structures and step back from unnecessary day-to-day involvement:
  • Retaining a core of forestry expertise within Government with the capacity to deliver a range of functions, duties and powers,
  • Reviewing the Government’s forestry functions alongside the Triennial Review of the Environment Agency and Natural England,
  • Working with the devolved nations to ensure that vital cross-border functions in areas such as research, standards and tree health can continue to be delivered centrally, where this is appropriate,
  • Establishing via legislation a new, operationally-independent Public Forest Estate management body to hold the Estate in trust for the nation. It will be charged with generating a greater proportion of its income through appropriate commercial activity and with maximising the social, environmental and economic value of the assets under its care.
Realising More of our Woodlands’ Value

Defra acknowledges the social and environmental benefits of woodlands and to developing new market opportunities to realise these. Work already undertaken by the National Ecosystem Assessment, the Natural Capital Committee and the Ecosystem Markets will continue via:
  • Working with the Natural Capital Committee and the Office of National Statistics to develop a set of natural capital accounts for UK forestry assets and use this to inform the development of a set of natural capital accounts for the Public Forest Estate,
  • Developing a woodland ecosystem market roadmap to bring together actions by Government and our partners over the next 5 years to (a) build knowledge (b) develop wider networks of collaboration and expertise and (c) implement mechanisms and projects to demonstrate good practice,
  • Working with others to support the further development of markets in forest carbon and other ecosystem services such as water and biodiversity.