The Sunday Times has published a letter written by ADBA Chief Executive Charlotte Morton responding to an article on AD (paywall) by the broadsheet.
The short article, which appeared in the Sunday Times on 5th August, suggested that investors were 'questioning the wisdom' of AD plants and pointed to examples of insolvencies in the industry. It also incorrectly stated that AD plants are subsidised by the European Union.
Charlotte's letter to the paper (paywall) seeked to correct the inaccuracy and give a more balanced view of the current state of the AD industry. The full letter sent to the Sunday Times, the majority of which was published, read as follows:
Peter Evans’ article ‘Magic of ‘miracle’ green digesters fades as pioneers go bust’ (5th August 2018) is both inaccurate and misleading.
First, anaerobic digestion (AD) plants are not subsidised by the EU, as Mr Evans incorrectly states. Payments under the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) are not made to support renewable energy generation on farms. Farmers producing biogas from an AD plant can receive payments for producing renewable heat (from the Renewable Heat Incentive, RHI), electricity (from the Feed-In Tariff or Renewables Obligation), or transport fuel (from the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation), all of which are entirely unrelated to the EU or the CAP.
Second, despite the insolvencies referred to in the article, the UK AD industry is growing and is forecast to continue to do so. We are expecting as many as 50 new biomethane-to-grid plants to be built over the next 18 months as a result of restored tariffs from the RHI, with these plants making a vital contribution to decarbonising the UK’s heat supply. As in all industries, it is not uncommon for AD plants to change hands as part of refinancing and upgrading arrangements, and we welcome all efforts to improve performance at AD plants.
Third, the suggestion from Jason Baker that farmers find it difficult to run an AD plant alongside their everyday farming operations does not correlate with our experience. A number of our members do exactly this very successfully, having incorporated the plant into their operations, and report a wide range of benefits including home-grown energy, better management of farm wastes, and the ability to diversify their income in a time of volatile commodity prices.
With regard to the growing of purpose-grown crops for AD, this is usually done as part of a traditional agricultural rotation, helping farmers to improve food crop yields and soil quality, or these are grown on marginal land not suitable for food crops. The amount of land used for growing crops for energy generation in England is less than 1%, and this figure is even lower across the devolved nations – more land is used for golf courses. Our analysis also shows that the growing of these crops has had no discernible impact on food supply for humans or livestock.
AD has a vital role to play in recycling wastes, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and producing the renewable energy, clean transport fuel, and soil-restoring biofertiliser that the UK desperately needs – we would expect a newspaper of the calibre of the Sunday Times to know and better reflect this in its reporting.