The Drax power plant in Yorkshire will end all coal generation by next year after almost five decades as one of western Europe’s most polluting power plants.
Drax Group will stop burning coal at Britain’s biggest power plant in March 2021, four years ahead of the government’s ban on coal-fired electricity, which comes into force in 2025.
The company said its milestone decision is part of its ambition to become a “carbon negative” company by 2030 but will lead to the loss of 230 jobs from the site at Selby.
Will Gardiner, the chief executive of Drax, said: “Ending the use of coal at Drax is a landmark in our continued efforts to transform the business and become a world-leading carbon negative company by 2030. Drax’s journey away from coal began some years ago and I’m proud to say we’re going to finish the job well ahead of the government’s 2025 deadline.”
He said ending coal burning is “the right decision for our business, our communities and the environment but it will have an impact on some of our employees, which will be difficult for them and their families”.
Drax claims to be Europe’s largest decarbonisation project after decades as Britain’s most polluting power plant since it began producing electricity in the 1970s.
The power giant is in the process of replacing coal with wood waste pellets – or biomass – and developing carbon capture technology to trap pollution from its flues before it can contribute to global heating.
Environmental campaigners have protested against the company’s plans to replace two coal-fired power units with gas-fired units and build a further two gas-fired units on the same site because of fears that the projects will lock the UK into long-term use of fossil fuels.
Some green groups have raised questions over whether burning biomass is a sustainable energy source and whether it should be considered “renewable”, despite reports from the company, which it says proves that its US wood pellets are sustainably sourced.
Drax earns an estimated £2.1m a day from renewable energy subsidies for its biomass units and has managed to reduce the cost of its biomass. The company reported adjusted earnings of £410m for 2019, up from £250m the year before.
Gardiner said by using “sustainable biomass” Drax has “not only continued generating the secure power millions of homes and businesses rely on, we have also played a significant role in enabling the UK’s power system to decarbonise faster than any other in the world”.