Biomass with CHP
In contrast with dedicated power only biomass plants, biomass-fired combined heat and power installations are continuing to attract investment in the UK, given that they still qualify for significant government support.
A number of these projects have made advances over the previous few months. For instance, RWE Innogy UK (formerly RWE npower renewables), is in the final stages of commissioning its Markinch Biomass CHP plant in Fife, Scotland. This 65 MW plant will supply up to 120 tonnes of industrial steam per hour to paper manufacturer Tullis Russell. RWE Innogy is investing some £200 million (US$300 million) in the development, which was built by Metso and Jacobs.
In October 2013 Estover Energy revealed that planning consent has been granted by Dover District Council for its proposal to develop a £65 million (US$100 million) biomass-fired CHP in the South East of England at Sandwich, in Kent. Generating 11-15 MWe and 8-12 MWth, the plant will use locally sourced low-grade wood as fuel.
Construction is forecast to begin in spring 2014 at the Discovery Park science and technology park.
And in the July, the Helius Energy-developed CoRDe biomass energy plant in Rothes, Speyside, Scotland began operations, using by-products from nearby malt whisky distilleries to produce renewable energy and an animal feed protein supplement, Pot Ale Syrup. Construction began in 2011 on the 8.32 MWe and 66.5 t/h pot ale evaporator plan. The total development and construction costs of the project were £60.5 million.
Furthermore, Kedco plc, is developing the 12 MW Enfield Biomass CHP project in north London.
The Enfield Project has full Planning and Environmental Permission for the conversion of 60,000 tonnes of waste timber per annum into up to 12 MW of electricity and heat.
According to the last project update from the company, MWH Global Inc has been chosen as preferred construction contractor while Statkraft Markets is apparently cued up for the purchase of all the electricity generated by the plant.
Dr Skorupska concluded: “The government now must move swiftly to protect both existing and future investment, by giving a strong, clear and positive message that the U.K. is still open for business for biomass.”
Unite, Britain’s biggest union, also heaped scorn on the U.K. government’s energy policies. National officer for energy, Kevin Coyne, blistered: “The government is presiding over an energy shambles. Coal-fired power stations are closing and there are not enough replacements. It is time energy secretary Ed Davey got his act together to prevent Britain from heading into an energy crisis.”
The UK’s Biomass Giant
According to government figures, biomass is in fact booming in the U.K. Provisional 2013 data suggests that in the U.K. low carbon generation accounted for 32.7 percent of electricity supply in 2013, up from 29.4 percent in 2012, but bioenergy was up by 52 percent and its share had grown to 2.8 percent of the total by the end of the year. The latest provisional monthly energy statistics produced by the Department of Energy and Climate Change and released at the end of February 2014 support this trend, with bioenergy generation up 15.6 percent over the last quarter of 2013.
In this case though, the government acknowledges this is mainly due to the partial conversion to biomass of Drax. Once Europe’s largest point source of carbon dioxide emissions, Drax — the 4-GW monster in Selby, Yorkshire, — is now Europe’s largest single biomass-fired installation as the company sets about becoming a renewable energy generation company.
In April 2013 it finished converting one of its generating units to biomass and plans to convert a further two units by 2016.
The new £700 million (US$1 billion) planned conversion project burns wood pellets rather than coal, which Drax calculates will reduce carbon emissions by 80 percent.
Recently publishing its preliminary results for the year ended 31 December 2013, Drax said its transformation to a predominantly renewable power provider was well underway with the first unit delivering 630 MW — at an efficiency only 0.5 percent lower than when using coal.
With biomass storage and delivery systems fully operational for first unit, in the US, two pellet plants with an aggregate annual capacity of 900,000 tonnes and an associated port facility are under development.
The company says it has further plans to burn increased biomass as an enhanced co-firing unit from May 2014, earning 0.9 ROCs/MWh, in advance of full conversion of the unit, planned for April 2015.
Commenting on the results, Dorothy Thompson, chief executive of Drax, said: “We are well placed to secure CfD Investment Contracts for our second and third unit conversions. We look forward to the conclusion of the government’s contract award process this spring. These contracts will underpin the investment required to secure the sustainable biomass supply chain for our second and third unit conversions.”
However, a joint complaint by Friends of the Earth and Bristol Community Energy Limited has cast a shadow even over this project, having apparently prompted the European Commission (EC) to begin preliminary investigations into U.K. government support in financing the biomass conversion programme.
According to the complaint, In April 2013, the UK Treasury issued a guarantee underpinning Drax Group plc’s £75 million ($100 million) loan facility to finance the conversion. Friends of the Earth believe that the Drax guarantee is unlawful, on the grounds that the UK has infringed European Union laws on state aid.
Whatever the outcomes of the European Commission investigation into Drax’ finances or the on-going arguments over the energetic — rather than economic — viability of converting existing coal-fired power stations to run on biomass as opposed to supporting dedicated, modern installations, the outcome for the people of Blyth, Northumberland, and more widely the UK’s dwindling reserve capacity margin is, tragically, the same.
Expressing bitter disappointment, RES’ Chief Operating Officer for the U.K., Gordon MacDougall, said: “This is a reminder to government that, without a consistent approach to energy policy, investors and developers will be deterred from delivering the billions of pounds needed to ensure the nation’s energy infrastructure is able to keep the lights on and secure cost effective electricity for British homes and businesses.”