Green campaigners give guarded welcome to Drax’s announcement that it will stop burning coal

ENVIRONMENTAL campaigners have given a guarded welcome to the announcement that energy company Drax plans to stop burning coal at its North Yorkshire power station, which was once one of Europe’s biggest polluters, from March 2021.

Drax Power Station Picture by Simon Hulme

However, unions warned that the announcement will harm the local economy after Drax confirmed that up to 230 jobs will be lost as part of the move.

It means the country’s largest power station will stop using coal well ahead of the government’s 2025 deadline.

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The decision to stop using coal at Drax comes after a comprehensive review of its operations. Drax does not expect to use coal after March 2021, but will ensure its two remaining coal units remain available until September 2022 in line with its existing capacity market agreements.

Drax CEO Will Gardiner 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.”

Kirklees Coun Andrew Cooper, the energy spokesperson for the Green Party, said: “Everyone will welcome the news that Drax power station is going to stop burning coal. However, it is important that the biomass feed stock has gone through a quality-assured process which proves that it’s genuinely sustainable.

“Also, for any power station to be genuinely sustainable they should be utilising the heat generated through the process of electricity generation.”

Simon Bowens, Yorkshire and Humber campaigner for Friends of the Earth, said: “In the first instance, it’s good that they will stop burning coal because it’s a dirty fossil fuel. But the answer isn’t to replace it with burning gas and unsustainable biomass. Instead there is a clear need to invest in the proper solutions to climate change which lie in renewables and energy efficiency.”

Unite, which has more than 450 members at the power station, said the energy producer’s decision cut up jobs by the time it becomes coal free highlights the need to ensure “union jobs on union rates” are created as the UK moves towards a zero-carbon economy.

Unite regional officer Shane Sweeting said: “Drax is a major employer in the area and today’s announcement will have a negative impact on the local economy, with numerous other job losses anticipated across the supply chain.

“Unite’s team of dedicated stewards at Drax are working tirelessly to ensure members are supported throughout this difficult time. The union will be exploring every avenue to protect the interests of our members and reduce the number of compulsory redundancies.”

Professor Xudong Zhao, the director at the Centre for Sustainable Energy Technologies at the University of Hull, said: “Coal-fired power plants operate by burning primary fossil fuel and generate a huge amount of pollutant emissions, which bring about tremendous environmental problems and contribute to climate change.

“Stopping the use of coal-fired power plants is a significant action in moving towards a carbon-neutral society, and will contribute to tackling the global challenge and improving the environment regionally, nationally and globally.

“While I am saddened to think that there may be redundancies, these changes are necessary in the name of progress and are the starting point to addressing climate change challenges and making the world a better place for everyone.”

Drax Power Station near Selby in North Yorkshire first started generating electricity using coal in the 1970s. Once the second half of the power station was built in the 1980s, it became the largest power station in the UK with the capacity to generate electricity for six million households.

Over the last decade four of the power station’s six generating units have been converted to use sustainable biomass, delivering carbon savings of more than 80% compared to when they used coal.

This has transformed Drax to become the UK’s largest renewable power generator and the biggest decarbonisation project in Europe.