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Are ugly Drax’s ‘greener’ power plans viable?

The giant Drax coal-fired power station in Selby is the embodiment of ‘old’ energy, with its 12 enormous cooling towers spewing out the steam it takes to create 4GW of energy for UK households. It’s a huge blot on the landscape and one of Europe’s biggest polluters.

Drax is trying to change that – not least because of the rising cost of environmental taxes and the EU’s emissions trading scheme. Drax claims the cleaner alternative to coal is biomass and last month it unveiled a joint venture with Siemens to build three power stations that will burn wood chips and peanut husks.

There’s an interview with Drax’s chief executive Dorothy Thompson in this week’s Sunday Times where she argues the case for moving to biomass. Of course there are very sensible financial reasons for Drax to do so – the 1.5 renewable obligation certificates biomass electricity generators will get for every megawatt hour of electricity produced from non-food crop biomass.

Critics point to practical flaws in the plan – the fact that biomass material is less ‘energy dense’ than coal, meaning a much bigger amount of material needs to be burnt to get the same energy and it’s not clear where those vast quantities would come from and how much would need to be shipped in from overseas.

Either way, this will impact every one of us because a huge chunk of the UK’s energy supply will hinge on Drax and how successful it is in moving away from a dependence on coal.

Here’s a quote from Drax’s Thompson in the article:

“Looking at the outlook for capacity and demand, the UK is going to be dependent on plants like Drax for some time to come.”

The full Sunday Times article is here.

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