AFTER decades of burning coal to power the nation, North Yorkshire power station Drax started a new journey five years ago when it set out to convert it fuel source to biomass.

The company welcomed the news last week that financial commitments from Government in support of biomass will continue allowing it to convert its fourth unit, from a total of six, to burning chipped wood pellets instead of the dirty fuel.

However Unit 4 will be the last at Drax to undergo the conversion amid new plans at the power giant. Drax has turned it renewable agenda to gas in its latest scheme.

Public consultation is currently underway on plans to convert the final two units into combined-cycle gas turbines (CCGTs) with an associated battery - which promises to be among the largest in the world.

Talking to The Press about the move away from Biomass, Drax Power chief executive Andy Koss, said: “We’ve got financial support for Biomass until 2027. Our challenge is how do we get the cost of biomass down so when the support runs out we can still run this plant into the 2030’s.

“We recognise and support the Government in its aim to get coal off the system by October 1, 2025.

“We still see a long term future for biomass, and particularly large pieces of kit like ours is all really important.

“However the Government is looking very hard at the amount of support they give for renewables in the future. The support we get today isn’t necessarily going to be available for future conversions, therefore its good for us to be diversified.

“We were always dependant on Government with biomass, it felt like we weren’t in control of our own destiny.

“Our researchers and engineers set out to look at other options for ourselves. It became clear quite quickly that the gas conversion was something we could do.We have got some outstanding engineers that we believe can do this. It became a credible option.

“It’s good to have different technologies or fuel types available to us. They will be able to do different things. We see ourselves as supporting other low carbon technologies.”

The installation of the CCGT’s will see the capacity of the coal units being considered, which currently stands at 1,290MW, increase to up to 3,600MW.

In the five years since it took its first step into renewables, Drax Power Station, near Selby, is now the largest single site renewable electricity generator in the country, supplying 17 per cent of the UK’s renewable power, which is enough for four million homes.

But with emerging renewable technologies, each dependent on varying levels of reliability from its source, sitting hand in hand with demand changing nationally, power supply has never been more complex.

Drax believes its CCGT proposal can solve many of the problems by providing high levels of power instantly thanks to the associated batteries, which will store enough power to get the generators running at full power instantly.

Mr Koss said: “We can generate a lot more power on gas rather than coal. We can put integrated batteries into this as well, using cutting edge technologies to make these units are more responsive.

“We think we are ahead of the curve on this. The grid needs a responsive, flexible and reliable plant that can ramp up and down very quickly in response to the energy demand of the UK at any one time. Because there’s volatility in the markets we would applying for a Capacity Market Contract to insure our investment. They are allocated in an auction every year, and the key is to be the most competitive in terms of the cost of the project against the power produced.

“We think the fact we are going to use a lot of our existing infrastructure, even though it is more difficult to integrate, it will significantly reduce the cost.”

Drax is hoping to have all the necessary planning permissions in place, so that if it is successful in securing a Capacity Market Contract it will be ready to proceed in 2019, with the first gas powered turbine potentially up and running by 2023.

Public consultation events are on February 1, at Selby Town Hall 10am-4pm and Hemingbrough Methodist Church Hall on February 2.