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UK Largest Power Station Low Targets

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UK's Giant Drax Plant Could Halve CO2 Output

 

UK: May 18, 2007

 

SELBY, England - Britain's biggest coal-fired power station could almost halve its CO2 emissions using existing technology, but is being held back by government policy, says Drax Chief Executive Dorothy Thompson.

 

Drax power station in northern England is Britain's cleanest coal power station, but because of its sheer size -- it supplies over 7 percent of Britain's electricity -- it is also the country's single biggest producer of climate-damaging CO2.

The plant's 850 feet (260 metres) high chimney, the tallest in Britain, dominates the landscape in Selby, Yorkshire.

 

Coal-fired power stations, including Drax, have become a target for environmental protesters, with campaign group WWF last week naming Britain as home to a third of Europe's dirtiest plants.

 

But Thompson said Drax could start cutting CO2 immediately by replacing much more of the coal it burns with renewable plant biomass if it got the same kind of support as wind farms.

 

Britain will next week publish its long-awaited energy review, detailing the landscape in which power producers will be expected to help Britain achieve its goal of cutting greenhouse emissions by 60 percent from 1990 levels by 2050.

 

"We'd like to see the right level of support for co-firing plant biomass," Thompson told Reuters on Wednesday. "It is the most practical way for the UK to achieve a quick reduction in CO2."

 

Biomass is seen as harmless to the environment because it absorbs as much CO2 while growing as it produces during burning.

 

"I don't see why wind farms should get preferential treatment to co-firing," said Thompson. "It's as effective a way to abate CO2 as wind."

 

 

GOING SUPERCRITICAL

 

The company has already set itself the target of 2009 for generating 10 percent of its electricity by burning biomass, like willow sticks or elephant grass. But it could go further still.

 

"I don't believe 10 percent is a limit, but the sourcing and logistics are difficult," said Thompson. "We could do somewhere between 10 and 20 percent without major changes to the boilers, but that's in the realm of theory."

 

Ultimately, Drax could halve its annual emissions of around 20 million tonnes of CO2, about three percent of Britain's total, by also retrofitting supercritical boilers.

 

"The early indications are that it's feasible but its likely to be very expensive," said Thompson. "With the right investment climate and right economics, we're talking about a five to eight year horizon," she added.

 

Like many of her peers, Thompson would like to do more to curb emissions, but is unable to put a viable case to investors without a clearer view of the future energy landscape.

 

"We need more clarity on planning, and a clearer framework for investment," she said.

 

Drax has also taken a look at the possibility of carbon capture, where CO2 can be caught and pumped into underground storage. At least four UK projects will soon be vying for government subsidies to build Britain's first carbon capture schemes.

 

But Thompson said Drax would be a follower rather than a leader on that technology. "We strongly believe that we'd need to see a demonstration project before an entity like us could go forward with retrofitting."

 

 

 

Story by Pete Harrison

 

 

REUTERS NEWS SERVICE

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