Utility Week

UTILITY Week 4th April 2014

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sion of existing coal plant to biomass does not incur. For example, the strike prices for many renewables do not include the cost of connecting new-build assets to the grid, of maintaining those new connections or even the cost of keeping back-up power stations standing idle for when intermittent renew- able plant are not available. Biomass must be demonstrably low car- bon and sustainable in every way. The sus- tainability of the biomass we use is at the core of everything we do. Drax has had a compre- hensive, independently audited sustainabil- ity policy in place since 2008. Critics who say forests should not be harvested simply to make biomass pellets are right, but they are wrong to imply that is what happens. A landowner would not harvest a forest just to make bio- mass. Large trees are more valuable when used as saw logs for construc- tion or furniture. Foresters manage their land to maximise value, which means they choose the time to har- vest carefully. At the time of harvest there are inevitably some trees that do not meet the required saw log specification: they may be diseased, misshapen or have a rotten core. At the same time, some parts of the highest value trees, such as the offcuts, branches and tops, are not suitable for saw logs. In the past, below-specification wood and saw log resi- dues were oen le to rot or burnt on site – it is material like this, which is not destined for any other market, that is suitable for use as biomass in electricity generation. The full conversion of three of Drax's generating units will require between seven and eight million tonnes of biomass a year, but that amount needs to be put in context. The US Department of Energy estimates that in the US alone at least 93 million tonnes of easily recoverable forestry by-products, thin- nings and residues go to waste every year. There is no shortage of sustainable bio- mass and with so much going to waste aer other industries have taken their cut, it is 6 | 4th - 10th April 2014 | UtilitY WEEK Comment L ast week the government announced that UK greenhouse gas emissions fell by nearly 2 per cent in 2013. Much of this fall can be attributed to a 9 per cent reduction in the amount of coal used to gen- erate electricity and a large increase in wind generation. Aer some years of volatility, the downward trend in carbon emissions seems to be back on track. This is welcome news, but intermittent renewables such as wind cannot replace coal alone. They do not provide baseload power and cannot be relied upon to respond to changes in demand or fluctuating sup- ply. We need a genuine mix of generating technologies. Sustainable biomass is already playing a vital role. It is the only renewable that can supply both baseload and flexible electric- ity at scale in the UK, it is more cost effective than many renewables and it is lower carbon than other despatchable technology. In April last year, Drax converted its first generating unit to burn sustainable biomass in place of coal, which is now fully supported by new rail receipt, storage and distribution facilities. We are already producing the same amount of electricity as it would take to sup- ply one million homes and our target is to be a predominantly renewable generator by 2016 through the biomass conversion of two further generating units. This is good news for electricity consum- ers. Under the contracts for difference (CfD) regime, power stations that convert from coal to biomass will receive £105/MWh; this support ends in 2027. The price most other renewable generators will get is guaranteed until 2030 and the subsidy paid to nuclear operators will be paid for 35 years – nearly three times longer. Not only is the strike price itself lower than for many renewables, but it is paid over a far shorter period. Independ- ent work carried out for the Department of Energy and Climate Change (Decc) shows that the costs of meeting our 2050 decarboni- sation target would be £44 billion higher without sustainable biomass. There are also hidden costs to many low-carbon technologies, which conver- A truly viable alternative? Drax believes that biomass will play a critical role in the UK's future energy mix by offering a cost-effective, reliable alternative to intermittent renewables, as long as it is sourced sustainably. Chief executive's view Dorothy Thompson, Drax wrong for anyone to imply that demand for biomass will lead to more trees being har- vested – and of course highly biodiverse for- ests would not and must not be harvested for any industry. That is precisely why they are protected by our sustainability policy and oen by law. Ensuring the biomass we use is sustain- able also means making sure the forests that supply the residues and thinnings we need are growing, not shrinking. Our sus- tainability policy ensures this, but equally why would landowners over-harvest their land one year, only to endure a period of no return while the area regrows? They need steady income year aer year, and for that they need to harvest at a sustainable rate. It's a concept known as the growth-to-drain ratio of a forest and we monitor it to make sure the "woodbaskets" that supply resi- dues and thinnings to pellet mills are growing more quickly than they are being harvested. That way we avoid deforestation and con- tribute to the growth of US forests, which through sustainable forest management have been increasing every year for more than 50 years. Finally, we measure the car- bon footprint of our supply chain, including harvest, production and transport of the pellets to the UK. The data is independently audited and we know the carbon savings we are delivering are more than 80 per cent relative to coal. That means our carbon footprint in 2012 – some 22 million tonnes – will have been halved by 2016. No other project will deliver savings close to this magnitude at compara- ble cost or in a comparable time frame. Aer more than six years of monitoring the sustainability of our biomass, we know as well as anyone that there is a right way and a wrong way to source biomass. We are sure the biomass we use is sustainable and equally convinced of the critical role bio- mass must play in the UK's future renewable energy mix. "It is wrong for anyone to imply that demand for biomass will lead to more trees being harvested"

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