September 29 (Renewables Now) – South Korean solar park owners and residents living near planned biomass-fired plants on Monday filed a lawsuit against the government on the grounds that the country’s generous subsidies for biomass power are unconstitutional.
Over 60 plaintiffs brought the lawsuit to the South Korean Constitutional Court, claiming that heavily subsidised biomass plants infringe citizens’ rights to clean air and property rights of solar projects owners, according to a statement released by independent policy research and advocacy group Solutions for Our Climate (SFOC).
The plaintiffs argue that solar and wind projects are being squeezed out of support as renewable energy credits (RECs) are disproportionately granted to biomass energy. They say that the amount of subsidies left for solar and wind projects reduces anticipated profits.
Another headache for solar promoters is the spot market price of RECs, which they say degraded thanks to the flood of biomass, making their projects difficult to develop. SFOC said, citing an own 2020 report, that South Korea’s biomass-friendly subsidies have resulted in some utilities meeting their renewables quota almost exclusively with biomass.
The second part of the process will re-ignite the debate on whether wood biomass is environmentally sustainable and more or less polluting than burning coal. It will be the second such dispute after a case to exclude biomass from the EU’s Renewable Energy Directive (RED II) was dismissed by the European General Court in May this year for lacking standing.
South Korea’s biomass industry frequently invokes the EU’s arguments that their technology is carbon neutral, accepting the position that the amount of CO2 emissions from biomass energy generation is equal to the amount of CO2 absorbed when trees grow back, according to SFOC. By this measurement, it will take up to 70 years for biomass to become carbon neutral, the organisation says.
Using data from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the plaintiffs will also counterargue that burning biomass emits more CO2 than coal.
The amount of policy-favoured biomass-fired plants in Korea led to a 61-fold increase in output from woody biomass from 106,023 MWh to 6.49 million MWh between 2012 and 2018. SFOC puts South Korea’s total biomass generation capacity at some 1,600 MW in 2020.
High REC multipliers for biomass were reduced in June 2018, but grandfathered for plants in the planning or permitting phase for 30 months. This led to a flurry of planning approval and added around 1,200 MW of additional capacity in the pipeline, prompting more concerns about the effects on the environment.