European Commission approves conversion of third Drax unit from coal to biomass

The third generating unit at Drax Power Station in North Yorkshire, UK, has been given European Commission (EC) approval to be fully powered by sustainable biomass.

Drax can now complete the upgrade of the third of its six units to run on wood pellets, a process that started in July 2015.

Now half the power station will produce renewable electricity, saving 12 million tonnes of carbon each year.

According to Drax, the company produces enough renewable electricity to power three million homes, and in the first six months of 2016, 20% of the UK’s renewable power was provided by Drax.

The government has set out proposals to end coal-fired generation by 2025 as part of its plan to stimulate more clean energy generation.

The EC’s decision gives approval to the government’s support for the upgrade of Drax power station from coal to biomass, and marks the culmination of a £650 million (€772.7m) investment.

Andy Koss, Drax Power CEO, said: “We have demonstrated how to reinvent a coal-fired power station, using an existing asset, so there are no hidden costs to the grid and it is quick to achieve.”

Koss said that what has been achieved to date at Drax showed the power station could help switch from coal in an affordable way for bill payers sooner than the 2025 deadline.

“The energy challenge facing the UK is how to replace the contribution currently made by coal. Biomass technology is proven, ready to go, and ideally placed to help the country transform to a low carbon future with reliable, secure and affordable renewable power,” he said.

 “With the right support from the government, we could upgrade the remainder of the power station to run solely on biomass and provide up to 8% of the UK’s total electricity from sustainable sources,” Koss added.

The share price of the UK power producer jumped to 356.2p, a five-month high, following the EC’s decision.

The EC approval follows the recent announcement by Drax that it is diversifying its power generating capability.

It is developing plans to build four state-of the-art rapid response open cycle gas turbine (OCGT) power stations, which could, at the flick of a switch, be running at capacity within ten minutes.

These more flexible plants would provide system support to the grid and “plug the gaps” created by intermittent renewables like solar and wind, according to the company.

The proposed rapid response gas projects would further assist in getting coal off the system and so help the government achieve carbon saving targets. 

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