Exclusive: Coal links severed as region bids for greener future

Eggborough Power Station near Selby
Eggborough Power Station near Selby
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The end of Yorkshire’s historic association with coal is moving closer after one of the region’s largest power stations was revealed to be in the “final stages” of negotiations to switch permanently to burning wood.

MPs say the first of Eggborough power station’s four coal-burning units could be converted to burn “biomass” as early as next year under a massive investment programme which its owners say will protect 1,000 jobs in the local area.

The scheme follows an announcement last year from nearby Drax power station – currently the largest coal-fired plant in Europe – of a programme to convert three of its six units to biomass, with the first due for completion within weeks.

Burning wooden pellets and other organic matter is seen as more environmentally-friendly than coal, as trees can be planted in the place of those which have been burnt to soak up the equivalent amount of CO2.

The dramatic shift away from coal was reinforced last night with confirmation that mining has now come to an end at Maltby Colliery, near Rotherham, after more than 100 years.

The pit’s owner, Hargreaves Services, announced last year that the colliery was no longer economical and would be mothballed with the loss of more than 500 jobs.

Its closure leaves Kellingley Colliery in North Yorkshire and Hatfield Colliery near Doncaster as the region‘s last remaining deep mines.

But with the drive to cut carbon emissions due to be ramped up over the coming years, MPs and power station bosses believe the switch to biomass is the best way to protect jobs over the long term.

Speaking in the Commons, Selby MP Nigel Adams said: “Eggborough is in the final stages of some detailed talks with the Department of Energy and Climate Change.

“The project is shovel-ready for full conversion of all four of its 500 MW units; the first unit could start generating exclusively from biomass in late 2014, if we get things right.

“Over the next few years the predominantly coal-fired stations will become predominantly sustainable biomass-fired stations, providing a significant contribution to the UK’s targets for renewable energy, protecting thousands of jobs and enabling hundreds of millions of pounds of investment in the stations – as well as the enormous investment and job potential in the upgrading of our ports and railways to facilitate them.”

The economic opportunities for the region were emphasised yesterday with the announcement of a £100m investment in the Ports of Hull, Goole and Immingham, for facilities to handle shipments of wood pellets for Drax.

Dock owner Associated British Ports (ABP) said it has signed a 15-year deal with Drax that will see 3m tonnes of wood pellets shipped in per year from abroad and create 100 new jobs.

ABP chief executive, James Cooper, said: “This investment at Hull, Immingham and Goole looks set to secure the Humber region’s position as a centre
of excellence for the develo-
pment of the low carbon energy future”.

Drax’s chief executive, Dorothy Thompson, said: “Investment in the biomass supply chain is critical to developing this nascent industry and realising its huge potential.”

The Eggborough project is still to be finalised, however, and the power station said in a statement yesterday it is seeking “urgent policy clarity” from the Government before investors will give it the green light.

A spokesman said: “The conversion project being considered by Eggborough would offer a highly cost-competitive, renewable and rapidly deployable solution.

“With economic growth still slow, and warnings over future energy security growing, the UK badly needs shovel-ready projects like this to protect jobs, drive growth and keep the lights on.

“But urgent policy certainty is needed from Government.”

The Coalition insists it fully supports converting coal-fired power station to biomass, and Energy Minister John Hayes told MPs he has written to Eggborough setting out the process it must follow.

He said: “I believe biomass is an important part of the energy mix.

“We are talking about a proven source of energy.”

The only long-term future for coal now appears to be through new technologies such as carbon capture and storage (CCS) – where CO2 is extracted before it is released and buried underground.

Drax has been shortlisted by the Government to build the UK’s first “clean coal” power station using CCS technology.

Biomass plant meeting goes ahead

PLANNERS will press ahead with a meeting today over a controversial biomass plant in the Yorkshire Wolds, despite residents’ pleas for a delay.

Fimber Parish Council wrote to East Riding Council asking for a postponement so they could look into changes which will increase the size of the plant by 40 per cent.

An action group, formed of 10 residents from Fimber and Wetwang, have written to the council, complaining that an “unbalanced and incomprehensive” report is being presented to councillors.

The largely straw-burning plant will generate 17.5 megawatts of energy – enough to power 10,000 homes.