Drax, UK’s largest coal fired power plant is looking to switch to biomass completely over the next 10 years. Its plans will move forward only if the government agrees to provide yearly subsidies to biomass burning type facilities.
The issue is the release of carbon dioxide, and Drax is Britain’s largest emitter of it. The burning of coal is what releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Carbon prices are expected to do nothing but increase over time, which is another reason that burning biomass, could be financially beneficial in a short period of time. An example of a biomass would be wood chips.
“Drax is a viable business today as a coal plant,” finance director Tony Quinlan said. He added: “But the opportunity to turn it into a renewable power company is an exciting one and makes sense for the UK’s carbon targets and for our shareholders.”
Drax has stated they will move forward with future plans if the government assures them there will be funds available to them which help offset the high cost of conversion. The current status of subsidies available is that only biomass specific plants receive extra funds to cover costs.
Drax has plans to convert the first unit by the end of next year. This unit is capable of generating 660 MW of electricity. It is believed that no coal plant of this size has ever been converted.
“It has not been done before because there hasn’t been the need,” said Quinlan.
If the conversion is a success, it is possible that up to two more Drax units could be burning Biomass by the year 2015. The remainder of the site could be converted in the 5 years following that.
Drax admits that it already does some combining mixing biomass with coal. Even this helps reduce the amount of carbon dioxide. Making a full conversion to burning 100 per cent biomass is the logical next step.
The burning of biomass is viewed as “carbon neutral” as the material is regrown, allowing the carbon emitted during combustion to be reabsorbed.
Before the company moves ahead with conversions it wants the governments certainty it will provide subsidy in the amount to make it feasible.
Chief executive Dorothy Thompson said: “We believe the government is aware of the issue and we are hopeful they will review it.”