Vuosaari bioenergy heating plant

Helen is phasing out coal use by 2029 in accordance with the Government’s policy. Biomass is currently the fastest method to replace coal use. We are building a new bioenergy heating plant in the Vuosaari power plant area. Construction will begin in spring 2020.

Helen decided to build a new bioenergy heating plant in the Vuosaari power plant area, north of the existing natural gas power plants which were commissioned in the 1990s. The district heat output of the bioenergy heating plant is about 260 MW. It will not produce electricity.

The construction of the Vuosaari bioenergy heating plant will start in 2020 with earthmoving works, and the actual construction phase will begin in autumn 2020. The objective is to start production in the heating plant during the heating season of 2022–2023, i.e. about one year earlier than predicted.

The main fuel of the bioenergy heating plant is wood chips, which is obtained as a by-product of forestry and cannot be utilised in other ways. The fuel we purchase has either sustainability certification or it comes from otherwise controlled sources.

The waste heat of flue gases in the bioenergy heating plant is recovered twice. Flue gases created during combustion are first passed to the heat recovery plant and from there to separate heat pumps. That way we can utilise the fuel as efficiently as possible and, thanks to the double heat recovery process, the temperature of flue gas has fallen to 10–20 degrees by the time it reaches the stack.


Questions and answers about the Vuosaari bioenergy heating plant

Why does Helen want to use biomass?

Helen is preparing to phase out coal. The Hanasaari power plant will be closed by the end of 2024. Heat production in Hanasaari will be replaced with large-scale recycling of energy with heat pumps and with heat storage and biomass. The currently implemented Vuosaari heating plant is the last piece of the heat capacity to replace the Hanasaari plant. About a quarter of the coal in Hanasaari will be replaced with biomass. The Vuosaari bioenergy heating plant will replace more than half of the Hanasaari heat production.

By how much will the use of biomass increase?

The Vuosaari bioenergy heating plant would replace about a quarter of the coal use of the closing Hanasaari power plant, and heat production will also be replaced with heat pumps and heat storage. The plant would account for about 15% of Helen’s fuel consumption.

What is the basis for the assumption that only a quarter of the coal in Hanasaari will be replaced with biomass?

Hanasaari will not be replaced totally with biomass. In addition to the bioenergy heating plant, heat production will be replaced with other production: recycling of energy with heat pumps and with energy storage. The efficiency of current capacity will also be improved. Electricity generation accounts for about a third of the production in Hanasaari and it will not be currently replaced.  

Is there enough biomass in Finland?

In Finland, bioenergy is mainly based on various sidestreams of forestry and the forest industry. Finland has a vigorous forest industry, so there will certainly be enough sidestreams available. The technical harvesting potential of wood chips and thinning backlogs amount to more than is currently used or carried out. Naturally, an increase in demand will have an impact on the price of bioenergy but, on the other hand, unprofitable harvesting sites will become lucrative and supply will increase. Our procurement area is the entire Baltic Sea region, and therefore we are not completely dependent on domestic supply.

Where is the intended procurement area of biomass/wood chips? Will fuel from overseas be used?  Will forests be cut down for the heating of Helsinki?

We aim for sustainability in 100 per cent of our procured biomass. In practice, this means that the wood fuels we procure have either sustainable certification (e.g. PEFC, FSC or SBP) or they are from otherwise controlled sources. Our objective is to utilise sidestreams of the forest industry in our biomass procurement. Wood chips are produced from the by-products of logging, such as from branches and small-diameter thinnings. By-products of the forest industry include, e.g. wood bark and sawdust, while circular economy fractions include, for example, reclaimed and demolition wood. So far, the majority of biomass we use (currently wood pellets) has been of domestic origin, but it has also been imported from other Baltic Sea countries. We communicate about the origin of fuel we procure in our annual corporate social responsibility report.

What is the basis for Helen’s assumption about zero emissions of biomass?

Sustainably produced bioenergy is regarded as carbon neutral because its combustion releases the same amount of carbon dioxide as biomass has sequestered during its growing period. Therefore, carbon dioxide circulates between the atmosphere and biomass, such as trees. Treating biomass as having zero emissions is not Helen’s own practice, but it is agreed jointly and globally in the UN Convention on climate change. The zero emissions of biomass in energy production is based on EU-level legislation, e.g. the Emissions Trading Act and the Renewable Energy Directive. The idea of Europe-wide emissions trading is that the number of emission allowances used by industry is limited and their numbers will be reduced over time in accordance with the climate targets. Therefore, according to legislation, biomass is regarded as emission-free in emissions trading. The calculation of the emissions of plants included in emissions trading is supervised by the Energy Authority. However, the carbon dioxide emissions of biomass are not disregarded when calculating total emissions. They are included, e.g. in the monitoring of the Paris Agreement and the emissions balance sheet of the countries. For the sake of clarity, all emissions of biomass are calculated in the so-called LULUCF sector, i.e. the land use, land use change and forestry sector. In practice, when a tree is felled in a forest, it is recorded in the statistics as an emission in its entirety, regardless of how and in what sector the tree and its various parts are utilised. The use of biomass therefore has an impact on Finland’s net emissions but, to avoid duplicate calculation, the emissions of forest biomass are calculated in the land use sector, not in the energy sector.

How much more traffic does the transport of fuel create? Or emissions?

Our current estimate is that about 60 lorry-loads of fuel are needed for the Vuosaari biofuel heating plant per day (excluding Sundays) when the power plant is operating at full power. If the Niinisaarentie route is used to access the area, the volume of traffic would increase by just under 4 per cent along the most quiet stretch. The route via Satamatie in Vuosaari would increase the volume by about 1 per cent. The emissions of transport are estimated to be a few per cent of the lifecycle emissions of the fuel.

When will the construction of the Vuosaari plant start?

According to the outline of the investment decision of Helen’s Board of Directors, construction will start with earthmoving works in March 2020.

How will the investment in the bioenergy heating plant affect the price of district heat?

The price of district heat will not be increased as a result of the planned plant investment. The taxation of coal and natural gas has been raised over the past few years and the price of emission allowances has also increased, having an upward effect on the price of district heat. In heat production, biofuels are currently a competitive fuel compared with coal and natural gas.

What does the decision on Vuosaari mean in terms of the other planned bioenergy heating plants, Tattarisuo and Patola?

New energy production areas are also needed. Investigations are ongoing in terms of the Tattarisuo and Patola areas: Tattarisuo has progressed to the land use planning phase. Energy production solutions can be implemented in the areas, but Helen aims to seek solutions that are not base