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Coal-to-biomass plant to deliver 80% carbon cut

Britain’s largest coal-fired power station is set to become one of Europe’s biggest renewable electricity generators, with the potential for new future generation on the site to be based on truly clean coal.

Energy and secretary Ed Davey opened the Drax coal-to-biomass conversion plan, and announced the government was awarding funding to further the White Rose carbon capture and storage project, also based at the site.

At Drax, the £700m planned conversion project will burn wood pellets rather than coal.

Drax calculate that this will reduce carbon emissions by 80 per cent compared with coal.

The facilities opened today will provide enough low-carbon power to the equivalent of around 1m homes and help to safeguard 1,200 jobs and many more in the supply chain and in local communities, Drax said.

The multi-million-pound FEED study funding will support the White Rose project, which is designing a £2bn state-of-the-art coal power plant with full CCS that will be able to provide clean electricity to more than 630,000 homes.

It also includes the planned development of a CO2 transport and storage network – the Yorkshire Humber CCS Trunkline – which would have capacity for additional CCS projects in the area.

It was claimed the project has the potential to create up to 2,000 jobs and safely capture 90 per cent of the plant’s emissions.

Together, the two projects could support 3,200 jobs in Yorkshire and the Humber, and provide carbon transport infrastructure to help build a clean energy industry in the region.

Readers' comments (1)

  • It is sad to see Ed Davey promote Drax’s biomass investments as ‘renewable’, ‘clean’ and saving carbon. The reality is very different. Drax will need to burn pellets made from almost 16 million tonnes of wood every year once they have converted half their capacity to biomass, as planned. This is around 1.6 times as much as all the wood produced in the UK annually. Importing and burning such vast quantities of wood is anything but sustainable. Nor will carbon emissions be reduced: Investigations by reporters and by US conservation NGOs Dogwood Alliance and NRDC show that at least one of the pellet mills that Drax is sourcing from has used wood from clearcut ancient wetland forests, rich both in carbon and biodiversity. Drax’s pellet demand poses a grave threat to many remaining natural forests in the southern US, forests which store large amounts of carbon as well as being vital habitat for large numbers of species. Furthermore, biomass does not even replace coal: As Vince Cable made clear in an interview to the Financial Times, without partial conversion to wood pellets, Drax would have to close under EU legislation. Biomass conversion will allow them to continue burning coal in three units long-term, without capturing any of that carbon. Their proposed CCS unit is additional and CCS remains unproven and high-risk.

    For converting their first unit to biomass, Drax is getting around £198 million in subsidies every year. For each of the two units they are planning to convert in future, they will likely attract even more subsidies. On top of this, they have a £50 million loan from the Green Investment Bank (publicly financed) and a £75 million public loan guarantee, which means that if taxpayers are liable to pay off Drax's loans should anything go wrong with the investment. Public subsidies and supports on this scale could support many more jobs in genuine renewable energy and/or energy efficiency, which actually would reduce carbon carbon emissions.

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