Drax has closed the curtain on its coal operations, putting the government under more pressure to secure supplies ahead of next winter.
The power group announced the official end of coal-fired operations at its flagship power station in North Yorkshire today after nearly five decades of generation.
Downing Street relied on the power plant as two of five coal standby units last winter in the case of supply pressure, extending the lifespan of both of Drax’s coal units beyond its original closure date.
National Grid, which oversaw the standby coal power plants, called for the warming up of Drax’s units twice last winter, but later stood down both orders.
Instead, two of EDF’s units were used last month over the course of one evening to ease supply pressures.
Drax’s decision seemingly brings to an end government hopes of keeping the plant available next winter, in line with requests made from Downing Street to National Grid earlier this year.
The UK has a target to close its coal-fired power plants by October 2024 as part of its net zero ambitions, leaving space for one more winter of standby supplies.
Following the end of the winter contingency agreement, Drax will convert the two units to biomass generation, where it has shifted the focus of its operations for the past decade.
Drax moving to biomass
Biomass generation from Drax Power Station makes up 12 per cent of the country’s renewable mix, with four of the power station’s six generating units converted to biomass.
This involves the burning imported wood pellets to provide energy – a practice that is considered green under government regulations but remains highly controversial.
Will Gardiner, Drax Group chief executive, said: “By converting the plant to use sustainable biomass we have not only continued generating the secure power millions of homes and businesses rely on, but we have also played a significant role in enabling the UK’s power system to decarbonise faster than any other in the world.”
Last month, the department for energy security and net zero not selecting its £2bn-plus ‘BECCS project’ – the company’s biomass carbon capture and storage – for its first round of approvals.
It was also not highlighted as a site of interest for its second round of approvals.
The government and Drax are now in talks over the future of the project, with Downing Street looking to deploy five megatonnes of engineered CO2 removals per year from CCS technologies by the end of the decade.
City A.M. has approached the government for comment.