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Xmas Comes Early For Drax

December 20, 2016
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By Paul Homewood



Management at Drax received an early Christmas present yesterday when the European Commission announced that it had approved the company’s bid to convert a third coal-fired power plant unit to biomass.
UK’s largest coal-fired power producer had been anxiously awaiting the Commission’s state aid decision, as it attempts to re-position itself ahead of the country’s ultimate coal power phase out.
The Commission has opened an investigation into government support for the project in January and concluded that it was in line with the European Union’s environmental and energy targets.

Dorothy Thompson

The company announced a shift away from coal earlier this month with the acquisition of business energy supplier Opus Energy and four gas stations. The deal had been contingent on the Commission’s state aid approval.
The British government has guaranteed a minimum electricity price for Drax’s biomass project of 100 pounds per megawatt-hour (MWh) until 2027, which Drax said had not changed following the Commission’s approval.
"With the right conditions, we can do even more, converting further units at Drax to use sustainable biomass in place of coal," Drax Chief Executive Dorothy Thompson said in a statement.
The company said it could convert its remaining three coal-burning units to biomass in the next two to three years if the government sets the right conditions.
Drax said the unit would be able to run 100 percent on biomass instead of co-firing coal in the coming days.


It might be a Christmas present for Drax, but not for bill payers, or for that matter American forests.

The stated strike price of £100/MWh, which seems to have been widely reported, actually understates the real cost, which is £105/MWh at 2012 prices, or about £115/MWh at current prices. This is nearly three times the going rate.

Last year, Drax received more than £450 million in subsidies for biomass power. Little wonder Dorothy Thompson wants to convert the other units!

  1. December 20, 2016 11:33 am

    It would be good if Nigel could persuade Donald to ban the export of wood for burning to produce electricity. To produce electricity by burning imported wood instead of coal is an insane policy, but typical of successive ignorant UK Government Ministers (and the dysfunctional EU).

    • catweazle666 permalink
      December 20, 2016 8:47 pm

      “It would be good if Nigel could persuade Donald to ban the export of wood for burning to produce electricity.”

      Contact President-elect Trump and tell him yourself.

  2. Dung permalink
    December 20, 2016 11:37 am

    Dead right Phillip but it is the UN not the EU that is the prime mover, The UN… your home of sustainability ^.^

    • December 20, 2016 12:13 pm

      Whenever I see the word “sustainability” I know someone is trying to put their hand in my wallet.

  3. Jack Broughton permalink
    December 20, 2016 11:41 am

    As Phillip says, this is techno-economic insanity: no saving in carbon emissions, burning stored carbon and horrendously expensive.

    Sadly, even when the stupidity of the “Climate-policy” is properly accepted, no one will be held accountable; just following agreed government policy!

    At least Drax will still be standing to be converted back to coal when sense does prevail: Ferrybridge and others will be demolished to ensure that low cost electricity cannot be generated.

    the prisoners have taken over the prisons this weekend, but the madmen took over the asylum years ago!

    • John Palmer permalink
      December 20, 2016 1:07 pm


    • Gerry, England permalink
      December 21, 2016 1:57 pm

      That is the small crumb of comfort for raiding our wallets, the fact that the plant can be converted back to coal once the madness passes. Just one to go before the swamp draining begins.

  4. martinbrumby permalink
    December 20, 2016 11:59 am

    I hope Dorothy Thompson sleeps well at night, despite the “unintended consequences” that will absolutely predictably follow from Drax’s conversion. I’m afraid I couldn’t have filled her shoes in respect of this, I would have been unable to be a party to this fraud.
    But it was long ago predicted by one of my more perceptive bosses, that I would likely die ‘the proudest man in the gutter.’
    In fairness to her, she certainly wasn’t the architect of this ‘nonsense on stilts’ and would presumably have been quite content if a coal burning Drax could have been allowed to compet on a ‘level playing field’ against any and all opponents, including whirligigs and solar ‘farms’.
    Also, in fairness to her, at least when her employees come in to work, they will have a job to do, rather than having to be told that, as it was a bit windy, there was no need today for sensible energy.

  5. December 20, 2016 12:11 pm

    This is the biggest con trick imaginable form the government with backing from the EU. There’s nothing sustainable or green about:
    chopping trees down and making into wood chips – carbon footprint 1
    shipping it to port – carbon footprint 2
    then across the Atlantic – carbon footprint 3
    transport from ship to Drax – carbon footprint 4
    burning the stuff – carbon footprint 5
    in a matter of days and then waiting 100 years for trees to grow back again. Then theres the additional payback for carbon footprints 1-4.

    • Harry Passfield permalink
      December 20, 2016 5:14 pm

      Roland, you forgot the carbon footprint resulting from the need to process and dry the pellets and keep them from self-combusting in storage.

      I bet the trees will run out long before the coal.

  6. NeilC permalink
    December 20, 2016 12:36 pm

    Surely the prime requirement of Government is to provide us with inexpensive and reliable energy. Burning wood-chips is not inexpensive at 3X the cost of coal and doesn’t save 1 molecule of atmospheric CO2.

    In fact, reducing huge numbers of trees, which absorb CO2, is environmental vandalism.

    We are run by imbiciles. Vive la revolution!

    • Broadlands permalink
      December 20, 2016 1:27 pm

      Neil has found the flaw? Sustainable biomass will not remove and store even one ppm of CO2 (two billion tons) from the atmosphere to lead us down the “garden path” to Jim Hansen’s mystical 350 ppm target. Perhaps that’s part of the reason he says it’s “wishful thinking” and NASA’s “gavin” says that he will never see CO2 below 400 ppm again? The inmates are running the global asylum?

      • December 20, 2016 3:13 pm

        The argument is that the replacement trees will be absorbing CO2, and what is released by burning is what was stored in the first place i.e. ‘carbon neutral’.

        But things like conversion to pellets and long-distance transport are obviously ‘extras’ on top of such calculations.

  7. Robert Fairless permalink
    December 20, 2016 1:04 pm

    Drax had to build three factories to process timber to pellets and prepare it for rail and ship transport. It cost many millions but they were effectively blackmailed by DECC to convert. It is a big sham carried out on the grounds that the timber is a renewable resource. It is if you can wait 80-100 years but many thousands of acres of forest and its ground life have to be destroyed. The climate change experts started off with the belief that European forests could provide the timber, converted power stations and then discovered the European forests were not big enough so they had to go to the USA. Unfortunately, although illegal the timber resources have been extended to include hard wood forests in North and South America.
    By any measure gas fired power stations is a better option but the government will not give enough subsidies to make it worth while for investors. They prefer to waste their money on even greater follies, like wind turbines. C’est la vie!

    • Gerry, England permalink
      December 21, 2016 1:52 pm

      Something along the lines of why we switched to coal from wood and charcoal perhaps. And from wind and water to steam then electricity or diesel.

  8. Lisboeta permalink
    December 20, 2016 1:15 pm

    I do not disagree with much of what has been said. However, it is not 100-year-old trees being felled. The tree most commonly grown for biomass and pulp is the eucalyptus. It is one of the fastest growing trees in the world. Depending on local climate, its life cycle to harvesting is between 4 and 7 years. The tree can regenerate from the cut stump and can be harvested four to five times (again depending on local conditions) during its 20-year life span. And then the plantation is re-started from seedlings.

    • David Richardson permalink
      December 20, 2016 3:06 pm

      “However, it is not 100-year-old trees being felled.” – yes I believe that it is. They are felling and chipping forests in The Carolinas, not planting them for cropping. Ask the real environmentalists in that area, not the Greenpeace BS.

      We all know that bio-mass can be fairly CO2 neutral, certainly willow is fast growing, but we also know now that its burning is toxic and hugely inefficient.

      They will be soon burning 15 thousand tons of pellets per day (30 trains) – roughly 4 times the tonnage of coal needed

      Add to that (as others have said above) – the CO2 released at felling (drag logging), the CO2 released by chipping, transport (trains, ships) and the CO2 released in damping the pellets (to avoid spontaneous combustion) and CO2 released to dry the pellets to burn them. AND you will release at least twice the CO2 at generation anyway.

      They already know its madness, but still can’t turn it off – we have targets to meet you know? – sod the planet

      • Gerry, England permalink
        December 21, 2016 1:55 pm

        In theory it is the leftovers from the timber industry. However, wave a wad of cash and that ups the ante so mature trees are being felled and chipped. Eucalyptus does grow fast and tall – I had one until it blew down. But the wood is very ‘wet’ and needs plenty of drying and doesn’t have a great energy value.

  9. Max Sawyer permalink
    December 20, 2016 1:39 pm

    How many tons (or even tonnes) of coal are just sitting under the ground in the UK? As I keep saying, repeal the Climate Change Act and derogate from the EU’s Large Combustion Plant Directive – common sense power generation without subsidies (ie a tax on consumers) will follow and the economy will receive an all-round boost. If only David Cameron had had the courage to “get rid of all the green crap” we wouldn’t be in this mess, which is entirely of our own making.

  10. Malcolm permalink
    December 20, 2016 1:48 pm

    The coppiced woodland was a prominent feature of the the British countryside and perhaps provided better environments for our fauna. Having said that, perhaps the great uninformed, populist (i.e, ignorant) population of Great Britain could be offered a referendum on the alternatives for our energy supply. Have you ever felt that you do not have a voice. The more that Paul discovers the more we are aware the reverse Brexit effect, that a small percentage of devotees cost the rest of us untold cost of living expenses and threaten our commercial viability. This current emphasis on the piddling difference that UK energy plays in the great scheme of things is that of the surgeon who professed that operation worked but the patient died.

    Of all the obvious stresses that JAMS have to contend with you would have thought that the one area in which the daily burden could be addressed, that of affordable household supply and enough power for process work; something totally within the remit of a State that is endowed with the responsibility for easing our anxieties, could be alighted on as a matter of urgency. Instead, outside of Mr Homewood, we are doing battle with a literary genre that uses all its romantic, emotional narratives to effect real life outcomes. But for Paul and his punctiliousness, actual science and reasoned argument, we are in a situation where Einstein meets Harry Potter and Harry is winning.

    • December 20, 2016 5:05 pm

      There is a reason that people stopped coppicing woodland: primarily because of the cheap availability of that reliable, energy dense fuel called coal. This was no good thing for butterflies etc; but for the people, it was an immeasurable improvement. I find it quite ironic that we are now reverting to burning wood and using windmills, as if the hard-won sense of our ancestors has been washed out of us.

      Perhaps the only way out of this is true democracy: tick a box on your leccy bill showing where you want to get your power. Let people select biomass and windmills if they like; I’m lumping for coal, of the clean variety of course.

  11. December 20, 2016 3:38 pm

    This is a sick joke from any imaginable perspective.

  12. Athelstan permalink
    December 20, 2016 4:10 pm

    We are a joke of a nation, the laughing stock of India and China anyhow….with, this sort of subsidy crackpot scheme and burnishing a rampant eco-lunacy, it provides the irrefutable evidence of what remaining marbles we had – have been turned to green mush.

    Abandon hope!! all ye who reside in Britain.

  13. Patsy Lacey permalink
    December 20, 2016 4:27 pm

    In 2015 Drax burnt more wood than is produced in the whole of the UK. Farmers in North Carolina are mounting campaigns to stop the deforestation in their State. They contend that Drax probably was the single biggest carbon emitter in the UK. Perhaps Scott Pruitt’s appointment will bring some sense to the whole mess.

    • December 20, 2016 4:55 pm

      I’d like to use that stat, if there is a reliable source for it. Any links? It sounds extraordinary.

    • December 21, 2016 9:23 pm

      Thanks… pity they didn’t give the figures there. I’ve done a quick search of t’interwebs and I think it’s close but not quite right.
      The two biomass units at Drax use 2.3 million tonnes of woodchips/year = 4.6 million tonnes total.
      UK forestry productivity = c.11 million tonnes “green”; allowing for water, I think this is about 7 million tonnes “dry”.
      When the 3rd biomass unit comes on, the wood chip being burnt will reach UK forestry productivity levels.

  14. December 21, 2016 12:41 am

    At Lisboeta above.The constant source of CO2release is Land Use Changes.When destroying forests and the associated ecosystems;preparing/ploughing the land produces vast amounts of CO2.The figures are not to hand at the moment.Will find.The short growth plantations will obviously suffer from LUC more regularly,with the added problem of more water and added fertiliser use.In Africa local farmers are removed from their lands,and investors move in with biofuel crops.Investors via the much touted Green Funding Bank that UK newspapers wax lyrical over in their business pages.

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