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Drax halves carbon emissions

Power giant Drax has cut its absolute carbon emissions for the first half of 2019 by 52%, compared to the same period last year.

Drax Power Station, near Selby, North Yorkshire, has converted three of its six units to burn wood pellets

Drax Power Station, near Selby, North Yorkshire, has converted three of its six units to burn wood pellets

The company posted the achievement as part of its half-year financial and environmental results on Wednesday (24 July). According to the results document, Drax’s emissions in the first half of 2019 were 128tCO2/GWh, compared to 265tCO2/GWh in the first half of 2018.

Drax attributes its decarbonisation progress to increasing its hydro, natural gas and biomass generation capacities while shrinking its fossil fuel portfolio.

The past six months have notably seen the firm co-locate its sawmill and new biomass plant in LaSalle, Louisiana, and begin trialling carbon capture and storage (CCS) on one of the four biomass units at its power station in Yorkshire.

The CCS array, which is being used in partnership with C-Capture, first began capturing carbon in February. Drax claims that it is the first of its kind anywhere around the globe and could eventually enable its Yorkshire site – a former coal-fired plant – to become the world’s first “negative emissions” power station.

A further key driver for decarbonisation, Drax claims, is its work in boosting power system flexibility and strengthening its operations in preparation for a low-carbon, decentralised and digitised electricity system. It recorded a 92% increase in value derived from flexibility during the first half of 2019, compared to the first half of 2018, after UK Power Networks launched its ‘flexibility first’ vision.

“Drax wholeheartedly supports the UK’s target of achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 and reducing our greenhouse gas emissions by half in the past year underscores Drax’s commitment to this goal,” Drax Group’s chief executive Will Gardiner said.

“With the right investment and regulatory framework, we could go further and Drax could become the world’s first carbon-negative power station – something the UK Committee on Climate Change recognises will be crucial.”

The flipside

In spite of its decarbonisation efforts, Drax has faced several bouts of criticism over its environmental credentials in recent months.

Last year, environmental law firm ClientEarth took legal action against Drax’s plans to open a four-turbine gas generation facility at its Selby power plant in Yorkshire, claiming that the project breaches the Government’s planning and climate change policies. Drax denied that its plans would put the UK at risk of missing its Fifth Carbon Budget.

Drax has also been threatened with legal action over its use of biomass, with plaintiffs from six countries having filed a lawsuit with the European General Court in Luxembourg in February. The plaintiffs claimed that forest-grown wood shouldn’t be counted as a source of renewable energy under the EU’s 2018 Renewable Energy Directive (RED) II.

These actions have created an environment whereby hundreds of climate protesters are now poised to launch a string of demonstrations against Drax’s use of biomass and the expansion of its gas generation capacity. From Friday (26 July) to next Wednesday (31 July), members of activist network Reclaim the Power are due to occupy the Selby site.

Sarah George

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