Andy Koss: Future’s green for Northern Powerhouse

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DRAX and the power stations of Yorkshire and the North have delivered affordable, dependable and flexible electricity that has helped the UK economy grow 2.5 times in size since we began generating in 1974.

Confidence and certainty that power will always be there, available at peak demand no matter what, has enabled industry and business to thrive, but maintaining this momentum in the decades ahead must now be delivered without reliance on fossil fuels.

A Northern Powerhouse will keep the lights on, only this time the power generated has to be clean power. The region, just like the UK as a whole, has to cut carbon emissions.

Yorkshire is leading the way in producing electricity using renewable power expertise and innovation that will make a real and lasting impact in reducing carbon emissions and help to achieve the country’s targets for tackling climate change. It must be allowed to deliver its full potential.

This is because the challenge is not only to increase our use of renewables in a transformed energy mix, but also to achieve this while maintaining the reliability and security of supply that industry, business and homes expect, and in an affordable way.

The warning signals of this transition are already being witnessed. Recently, National Grid said this winter’s spare capacity will be at its lowest for a decade. As we move towards the colder months, we need to be reassured that the country maintains its capability to produce electricity, renewable or not, no matter what the weather is.

This is why Drax’s role as a strategically vital asset in the UK power industry remains as important as ever.

Unlike other renewables that generate intermittent power, sustainable biomass helps to deliver flexibility, reliability and availability, providing affordable low carbon electricity whenever it is needed.

In two years, Drax has successfully converted two generating units from coal to sustainable biomass and our third unit has been modified to run predominantly on biomass.

This transformation, a first by any power generator in the world, has been achieved without interruption to the seven to eight per cent of the UK’s electricity we supply every day.

With three units fully converted, we will reduce our carbon by some 12 million tonnes a year – equivalent to taking three million cars off the road – and be the largest decarbonisation project in Europe.

Renewable power from sustainable biomass, wind, solar and waste-to-energy recycling is integral to the development of the Northern Powerhouse. Electrification of the TransPennine rail routes and connectivity between towns and cities will necessitate greater demand for clean power that meets the challenges of satisfying increasing need for electricity, decarbonising our economy and doing it without breaking the bank.

And it is now unlocking the potential of the Northern Powerhouse by creating supply chains for the delivery of processed biomass, wind turbine components and raw materials, rejuvenating ports from the Humber across to Liverpool and up to Tyneside.

Helping the UK cut its carbon emissions will bring economic benefits, according to recent research from the London School of Economics.

The evidence is already there. Clean power generators and innovators are boosting employment, attracting investment and growing a highly-skilled, well-paid workforce.

The £310m wind turbine blade factory for Siemens at Green Port Hull has created 200 construction jobs with work set to start this month. When up and running at the end of 2016, it will employ some 1,000 people and support further skilled employment in the supply chain.

At Drax, our new investment in sustainable biomass has not only protected jobs, but created them. Across the Drax Group we have 1,400 employees, with 850 based in Selby, while, for example, our new investment has created around 200 jobs at the ports where wood pellets will arrive.

Yorkshire’s energy industry truly provides the power for the Northern Powerhouse and at Drax we are demonstrating how a power plant can literally re-invent itself, embrace the new challenges we face, and deliver clean, reliable and affordable energy not just to the people of Yorkshire, but right across the UK.

Andy Koss is chief executive of Drax Power Ltd.