Drax's a stiff. Bereft of life, He rests in peace. If you hadn't nailed the green subsidy he would be pushing up the daisies! 'Its metabolic processes are now history. Drax kicked the bucket, he's shuffled off this mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin’ choir invisibile!
(With apologies to Monty Python)
© Copyright Paul Glazzard
Drax coal-fired power station is one of the largest in Europe and currently supplies 7% of the UK’s electricity. It should be closed down as EU rules come into effect in 2016 requiring coal plants to install expensive pollution-control devices if they want to continue to operate. This will combine with the carbon tax ‒ being introduced in April ‒ to make Drax uneconomic as burning coal emits copious quantities of carbon dioxide, for example twice as much as burning gas. The chief executive of Drax does not share my view. Ms Thomson has shareholders to satisfy who want to hear that the plant has a future and that their investment is safe. She is becoming increasingly imaginative in her assurances but the truth will out. By 2016, Drax will be worth only the value of a derelict brownfield site.
The apparent problem being addressed by the management of Drax is that there is no future in burning coal. This is, of course, true; but their solution, to convert the boilers to burning biomass, is absurd. The wood will be imported from abroad, mainly from commercially managed forests in the US. This makes business sense only because they believe they can claim the government’s green subsidy (raised through levies on customer energy bills). This is an example of not seeing the wood for the trees (excuse my pun). The real problem is that Drax is an inefficient behemoth built in an era of cheap coal and lack of concern about the environmental consequences. The problem is Drax. Whatever fuel is shovelled into its vast boilers is burnt inefficiently with the waste heat emitted through its massive cooling towers. It could burn used chip oil, recycle newspapers or the minutes of past meetings of the Drax board; it would not make Drax a green energy generator. Drax has as much chance of a green conversion as breathing life into the Norwegian Blue parrot in the Monty Python sketch.
Biomass can be part of the green energy future but burnt in highly efficient combined heat and Power plants (CHP). These small power stations will nestle close by communities feeding power into the grid and heat into houses and buildings. This is where government biomass subsidies should go. For the chief executive of Drax to lay claim to this money from the levy on consumer bills is patently wrong. In the words of Monty Python, perhaps Dorothy Thomson is ‘tired and shagged out following a prolonged squawk.’ This is one squawk the government should ignore. If the current rules allow Drax to claim the biomass subsidies then the rules should be changed.
Photo of Drax power station © Copyright Paul Glazzard and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence.