British power generation firm Drax has announced the end of coal burning operations at its plant in Yorkshire, northern England.
With four of the plant’s six generators now burning biomass, the power station has become largest generator of renewable power in the UK. The plant kept its final two coal-fired units until now as a contingency, following energy supply concerns after the invasion of Ukraine. Drax are now converting the remaining two coal elements into combined cycle gas turbines alongside 200MW battery storage.
Drax Group CEO Will Gardiner stated: “By converting the plant to use sustainable biomass we have not only continued generating, but we have also played a significant role in enabling the UK’s power system to decarbonise faster than any other in the world.
“We’re now planning to go further by using bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (CCS) to permanently remove millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year.”
Is Drax energy truly green?
However, the UK government has reportedly denied Drax access to subsidies in order to push forward its CCS project.
In 2020, Drax provided 11% of the UK’s power, the largest of any generator. Initially commissioned in 1974 as a state-owned coal plant Drax has had the largest capacity for power generation since then. The plant began co-firing biomass in 2008. Drax currently benefits from government energy subsidies that expire in 2027, casting the future of its biomass operations into doubt.
Biomass feedstock, specifically the wood pellets that Drax burns, are labelled as renewable because they come from trees that have already removed carbon from the atmosphere. There are though many who argue that this should not be classed as sustainable, as the burning still releases carbon. Investigators found that the company felled “environmentally important” forests in order to get biomass from them. Today Drax’s own scientific advisors have informed the firm to stop referring to biomass burning as “carbon neutral”. The plant is the biggest emitter of CO2 in the UK, furthermore Drax imports the biomass pellets from the US.