Self-supplier viewpoint

Letter from Ross Lowrie, Advisory Panel representative for Self Suppliers.

To introduce myself, I’m a climate change policy advisor who lives in a small Northumberland woodland and grows, cuts, splits and dries my own biomass for use in my ETA log boiler. I’m a passionate advocate for sustainable woodland management and low carbon solutions to tackle the increasingly urgent climate change challenge. For the last 7 years I’ve benefitted from Domestic RHI payments, and government has benefitted from my small contribution to decarbonisation of heating. I’ve gone down the biomass route because it works for me and my family, and because there’s a comforting simplicity to the supply chain given global fuel security issues. It’s no longer than the height of one of my over-grown pines. The northerner in me is drawn to the old adage that “he is twice warmed who cuts his own wood”. If you’re also registered as Self-Supplier under the Biomass Supplier List and a recipient of domestic or non-domestic RHI then I represent your views on the BSL Advisory Panel, and you may understand some of the irks that I set out below. 

The introduction of new Regulations in England insisting that recipients of Renewable Heat Incentive grant money demonstrate adherence to fuel quality requirements has been challenging. The intent of the Regulations is to reduce particulate emissions into our atmosphere and dry, good quality biomass fuels help achieve this. For self-suppliers of woodfuel, there have been particular challenges. Many of us are small scale woodlanders, most likely not full-time foresters, even less so full-time bureaucrats. In fact, we’re defined by not selling our wood-fuel, rather we simply process enough for our own self supply, whether that be for domestic or commercial use.  We keep the quality high because if we break our biomass boilers, we get the bill to repair them. 

Recent changes to the RHI Regulations mean we now need to demonstrate that we use good quality fuel by registering with Woodsure (or an equivalent scheme). 

This sits alongside a need to register fuels with the Biomass Suppliers List (BSL – a sustainability scheme), so at the moment we have to join two schemes, something that Woodsure wants to change and proposes a single scheme (or equivalents) for the future, to reduces costs and burden on the sector. 

Joining these schemes involves application form and the inevitable fee for handling it.  Then there’s the sending of a sample to Tewkesbury for testing and verification that the fuel is dry and not contaminated. It also takes us time to fill in forms that could be spent running a business, swinging an axe or when all else is done, enjoying our woodlands. 

This requirement for fuel quality systems and protocols and demonstration of sustainability is much needed and very sensible and proportionate for commercial woodfuel merchants – but in my view the requirement for self-suppliers must be kept as simple and cost effective as ever possible. 

I suggest that all I need to ensure the right quality is an axe and a moisture meter, all else is a distraction. Woodsure reports that their audits and testing demonstrate that not all self-suppliers find it so straight-forward and that test results demonstrate the ongoing need for some suppliers to persist and improve the quality of their fuel. 

For me there is no prospect of chemically contaminated or tropical rainforest sourced pellets entering my supply chain, and the enormous contentment of knowing that is hard to overstate. I know I’m “doing the right thing” and I think we need a system that recognises the low risk nature of self-suppliers.  I accept that it may not be the same for everyone, and I want to hear from you about your views of being a self-supplier, particularly in relation to fuel quality requirements, so please lend me your voice.   I’ll represent your views and pass them on to the BSL Advisory Panel and Woodsure.