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« Scientists: "poor must cough up" | Main | Gotcha »
Sunday
Mar102013

Booker on Drax

Christopher Booker reviews the madness of the decision to convert the UK's biggest power station from coal to biomass.

As from next month, Drax will embark on a £700 million switch away from burning coal for which it was designed, in order to convert its six colossal boilers to burn millions of tons a year of wood chips instead.

Most of these chips will come from trees felled in forests covering a staggering 4,600 square miles in the USA, from where they will be shipped 3,000 miles across the Atlantic to Britain.

I know of several people who have bought home generators. Booker's article may push a few more that way.

Read the whole thing.

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Reader Comments (44)

The new Eco ethos: food in the fuel tank and forests in the furnace.

Mar 10, 2013 at 10:24 PM | Unregistered CommenterSean

On the subject of home generators, I don't want to pay road duty to power my home and electric power tools so it must be a diesel in order to take red diesel. (vegetable oil is now too expensive). Any recommendations?

Mar 10, 2013 at 10:43 PM | Unregistered CommenterGrant

I am on holiday in Gambia and met a Dutch guy who works in a coal fired power station near Rotterdam. They tried burning wood in one plant and it actually caught fire because of the water content. Of course it is daft to use a fuel with 5 times less energy content than coal and costs more. Their government have now stopped subsidies for wood. The Dutch instead are opening 2 new coal power stations this year – one near Rotterdam operating at 1 GW. For political correctness purposes they are called mixed coal/biofuel but of course they are pure coal. The coal is imported very cheaply from US and S. Africa.

Only in the UK have we completely lost our marbles. Cheap reliable energy = productive industry = economic growth. Our politicians have seemingly lost all reason.

Doug Proctor suggests another possible reason here : http://tallbloke.wordpress.com/2013/03/09/christopher-booker-eco-madness

Mar 10, 2013 at 10:51 PM | Unregistered CommenterClive Best

Older Lister engines or newer Indian 'Listeroid' copies of the designs are favoured by off grid types for generators. And people with beards for canal boats. They are robust and simple to fix. Also very very noisy. An LPG conversion of a high revving petrol generator is another option. Gas is easier and safer to store than petrol.

Mar 10, 2013 at 11:20 PM | Unregistered CommenterRyan Roberts

Due to the Shale Gas revolution in the US, coal is quite now quite cheap and therefore burning wood will push up costs even further.

I think the wood has to be matured a couple of years before you can efficiently burn it.

Mar 10, 2013 at 11:34 PM | Unregistered CommenterConfusedPhoton

Confused Photon,

It's the moisture content. A lot of the energy is wasted boiling off water with green wood.

I gather that with wood burning power stations, too low humidity has to be avoided because of the problem of spontaneous combustion.

Mar 11, 2013 at 12:07 AM | Unregistered Commentercosmic

Cosmic

Yes I can see dried wood being somewhat dangerous.

Mar 11, 2013 at 12:22 AM | Unregistered CommenterConfusedPhoton

We're all doomed to darkness, as Booker points out - this is not just some little local difficulty. I fear Booker is correct, in that, the children running the DECC and Westminster have no idea of how much a series of total blackouts will cost the country, not only financially but in terms of security and at the last life - yes lives will be lost.

Converting from coal to wood is boundless and universal stupidity.

Mar 11, 2013 at 12:33 AM | Unregistered CommenterAthelstan.

"So in order to obviate this problem," he continued, "and effectively revalue the leaf, we are about to embark on a massive defoliation campaign, and...er, burn down all the forests. I think you'll all agree that's a sensible move under the circumstances.”

― Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Mar 11, 2013 at 1:12 AM | Unregistered CommenterStephen Rasey

Cutting down live beings in their juvenile stage-saplings-and throwing them into furnaces does seem slightly sadistic- but they are dead, hopefully, by then- aren't they?
If not let's hope that they don't suffer too much. Personally I'd rather toss fossilised plant-matter into the power stations on the presumption that they'd properly expired rather than leaving it to government death-certification, however impeccable the funding sources.
Darn it folks - how can an old denialist like me possibly be a touchy-feely environmentalist?
Is it 'cos I care?

Mar 11, 2013 at 1:19 AM | Unregistered CommenterRoyFOMR

4600 square miles are about 12000 square km.

This equals more than 40% of the total forest coverage of the UK (28450 km2)

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/datablog/2009/sep/02/total-forest-area-by-country

Mar 11, 2013 at 3:03 AM | Unregistered CommenterManfred

Where in the US are these forests to be cut for fuel? I live in Oregon where many of the forests are closed to all logging due to the spotted owl. Enviros are also promoting killing the barred owl because it is a predator of the spotted owl. Government approval of the killing of 1000's all types of birds including protected ones by the windmills, closing forests for one bird type, you realize the insanity which is called environmentalism is totally irrational and disgusting.

Mar 11, 2013 at 3:04 AM | Unregistered CommenterTomE

"Where in the US are these forests to be cut for fuel?"

The trees need to be cut down so there is room for wind turbines and solar power farms.

:)

Mar 11, 2013 at 4:45 AM | Unregistered CommenterBruce

This forest harvesting is not some lumberjack with a chainsaw.

This is fully motorized destruction. Basically like an animated nightmare for furry things. The machines move in and just take out everything in their path. It lays waste.

The term tree-hugger comes from this harvesting. Standing in these machines' way. Afterwards it looks like something from the Somme or Passchendaele. I have seen the results.

Basically greenies worst nightmare.

Joined up environmentalism.

Mar 11, 2013 at 6:27 AM | Unregistered CommenterJiminy Cricket

I bought a 7.6 kw Titan petrol generator for my place in Nz
http://www.riequip.co.nz/shop/Generators/Titan+Generators/Titan+8000+7.6kW+Generator+-+2+Week+SALE+SAVE.html

Chinese made, maybe not as good as Honda but a lot cheaper. diesel generators are more expensive but it depends how long downtime is for.

I also have a UPS to run the computer off. Small interruptions in power can easily be covered by UPS and see are getting cheaper. Try Amazon, for example.

See if you can get one that doesn't beep at you when mains input is off. That drives me crazy

Mar 11, 2013 at 7:28 AM | Unregistered CommenterAndy scrase

This is really complete madness. How on earth is it happening? We have an imaginary problem, global warming due to CO2 emissions. Imaginary, because there is no evidence of climate sensitivities high enough to make it a very serious or immediate problem. To take action on that we propose to reduce UK emissions. But UK emissions are so small that no matter how much we reduce them it will have no effect. Never mind, we decide to do this. Now we pick a way of reducing emissions that in fact does not make any reduction, but which will cost a bomb and probably lead to power cuts.

Its crazy. Environmentalism has turned into a movement advocating expensive and ineffectual remedies to address imaginary problems.

Mar 11, 2013 at 8:00 AM | Unregistered Commentermichel

An important factor in this is that it is a hidden subsidy to that darling of the left and last bastion of the old fashioned kind of unions, the rail freight industry. Currently there is a continuous stream of coal trains across Scotland from Hunterston bulk terminal and the Ayrshire opencast to Longannet on the other side of the country. Logically it should be transhipped at Hunterston (as the Irish coal is) and taken by sea to Longannet, but that would make a huge dent in the railfreight figures. Conversion to biomass which is much less dense means many more trains from port to power station.
It would be sensible to build power stations near the source of supply and transmit energy by wires rather than trains.

Mar 11, 2013 at 8:19 AM | Unregistered CommenterNW

@cosmic,ConfusedPhoton
One of the other problems with burning green wood is that the chimney gets coated with inflammable byproducts of combustion and serious chimney fires can be the result.

This also affects domestic woodburners and these are more likely to burn large amounts of pine which has a lot of resin and does the same thing to the chimney even when seasoned.

So the domestic dash to wood will have unintended consequences too

Mar 11, 2013 at 8:35 AM | Unregistered CommenterSandyS

Presumably the health impacts of burning very large amounts of biomass have been fully explored?

Mar 11, 2013 at 8:38 AM | Unregistered CommenterAndy Scrase

I have a message from the energy generating regulators. It's surprisingly similar to the one I got from the water regulators last year when I asked them why we weren't building enough reservoirs to service the South East. I reproduce it here:

"LA - LA - LA - LA - LA - LA - LA ....

Mar 11, 2013 at 9:38 AM | Unregistered CommenterDodgy Geezer

How will the fires in the furnaces at Drax be started? Will a man rub two sticks together until they are hot enough to set fire to a few wood chips? That would make the whole thing appear "greener" and "more sustainable".

Anything the British government publishes on the subject of energy should carry the label (with apologies to Carlsberg) -

"Probably the most stupid energy policy in the world."

Of course, our MPs of all parties seem to think that their energy policies are a source of pride, not shame. The amazing thing is that the public are so spineless. How much longer will we put up with this?

Mar 11, 2013 at 9:43 AM | Unregistered CommenterRoy

The kgCO2/kW created simply in the harvesting and transportation to site MUST make a mockery of the incredibly low figure attributed by DEFRA/DECC to biomass use.

Transportation by sea will only add to the fuel's moisture content, significantly increasing the amount of energy needed simply to evaporate its moisture.

Mar 11, 2013 at 10:21 AM | Unregistered CommenterJoe Public

@Joe Public
I was looking forward to seeing a couple of years worth of wood seasoning around Drax. It would be worth a visit to the area just to see that. In this part of France every Farmer has a wall of wood drying for their personal use and to sell. I have been doing mental calculations as to what the Drax wall would look like.

Do you think they'll be using "waste" heat to kiln dry the wood instead?

Mar 11, 2013 at 10:54 AM | Unregistered CommenterSandyS

@ConfusedPhoton

"Yes I can see dried wood being somewhat dangerous."

It's more than a theoretical danger as was found at Tilbury.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-essex-17177035

Presumably the carbon footprint of sorting out that lot and making good the damage was considerable.

Mar 11, 2013 at 10:54 AM | Unregistered Commentercosmic

@ michel

Environmentalism has turned into a movement advocating expensive and ineffectual remedies to address imaginary problems.

I'm not sure about "has turned into..."; "...is structurally predisposed to become..." is perhaps closer to the mark.

Easter Island comes to mind really.

Mar 11, 2013 at 11:27 AM | Unregistered CommenterJustice4Rinka

This is a symptom of the stupidity of our goverment, past and present. Build a big power stastion on a coalfield, excellent so far, but then close the pit, not good at all. Now spend £700m at least modifying six large boilers to burn wood chips brought all the way from N.America, final act of sheer stupidity. Meanwhile Germany are building, fast, 20+ coal burning power stations, to use dirty coal. Am I missing something here, we cannot burn coal because of EU rules but Germany can. This points to a government that is terminally sick, ...it doesn't say much either about the 600+ who voted for the Climate Change Act. How many of the elderly and vulnerable will have to die to satisfy Cameron, Yeo, Deben, Davey and their like. Sorry for the rant...not a happy bunny when faced with this type of stupidity!

Mar 11, 2013 at 11:46 AM | Unregistered CommenterDerek Buxton

When they work out kg of CO2 produced to genenerate a unit of electricity using gas v coal ALL factors in the production pipeline are taken into account.

Anyone who has witnessed modern forestry will be aware of the intensive fossil fuel powered machinery used in its production and harvest and in the case of Drax the fuel required to chip, transport and dry the fuel before it even goes into the furnace. Why are these sources of GHGs in the supply chain not taken into account.

On this subject I have also been very wary at how the figures are skewed to make coal look like a far greater source of GHG than gas in electricity production and believe the figures are very open to question. Then we also have copper loses of up to 60% or more in a national grid, is that taken into account with a coal plant near a city and gas generation at some remote terminal?

http://www.worldwatch.org/system/files/pdf/Natural_Gas_LCA_Update_082511.pdf

Thanks for the tips on generators.

Mar 11, 2013 at 11:55 AM | Unregistered CommenterGrant

Just wait till that huge pile of wood chips DOES catch fire (as it inevitably will) - just like Tilbury..
It'll take MONTHS to put out...
Oh - and while we're at it - can someone explain to me in words of one syllable (because I'm clearly missing something obvious here) how Germany can build more than twenty new coal-fired power stations, and still (presumably) comply with its EU emissions obligations..?

Mar 11, 2013 at 1:20 PM | Unregistered CommenterDavid

I wonder if it's at all relevant that renewables and biomass company Dalkia is owned by Veolia, which is owned by the Chairman of the UK's "independent" Committee on Climate Change.

Mar 11, 2013 at 1:26 PM | Registered CommenterPaul Matthews

There is another (real) hazard related to mass transportation of wood chips e.g. by sea..
A recent case in one of my trade journals (Safety & Health Practitioner) concerned the court case relating to the death of (I think) two crew members on a ship carrying wood chips. It transpires that wood chips emit carbon MONOXIDE - the first of the unfortunate victims had been overcome by the gas in the hold (colourless and odourless, as we all know) - and the second victim had gone to his aid.
The government will, of course, have taken this risk into account, won't they..?

Mar 11, 2013 at 1:27 PM | Unregistered CommenterDavid

Derek: only three burners to be converted at the moment out of the 6.

Wiki says each unit will use 2,300,000 tonnes of wood a year, which I make 6,300 tonnes a day, or getting on for 19,000 a day for all three.

This might be an underestimate, because wiki also says each coal unit uses 4,150 tonnes of coal a day (i.e. there's only a 50% mass for mass penalty for burning wood). Coal is about twice as dense as seasoned wood.

Mar 11, 2013 at 1:28 PM | Unregistered CommenterJit

Drax is carrying out a £100 million steam turbine upgrade in order to increase its efficiency to compensate for the fuel change.

The obvious questions are, why didn't they do this before to decrease Co2 emissions from coal, is this down to consumer subsidies and what would be the Co2 output per electricity generated if coal was used to power the new more efficient turbines (and compared to wood pellets).

http://gastopowerjournal.com/projectsafinance/item/1498-siemens-wins-new-order-steam-turbine-module-order-with-drax-power-in-the-uk

Also it seems many of the wood pellets are coming from beetle infested Canadian sources and have been heat treated to kill infestations, I would bet under other circumstances the greens would not only object to the import of contaminated wood but also the use of fossil fuels to treat it,

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/c02193c6-7aab-11e2-915b-00144feabdc0.html#axzz2NEpguGRk

Mar 11, 2013 at 1:56 PM | Unregistered CommenterGrant

I seem to recall from Booker's book, that Germany can build these coal-fired power stations because countries in the EU could set their emissions to whatever level they fancied as being their 1990 limit, and Germany set theirs at way above their actual emissions level. We, numpties as we are, missed a trick here, but probably done in a sanctimonious glow of right-on environmentalism, set ours at way below our actual emissions, and have to stick to it, hence the difficulties we are now in. Possibly another reason for coming out of the EU. We have got ourselves in a right old mess. I remember the Three Day Week only too well. On the technology plus side, I can make sure I charge up my various electronic devices so that I can read a book that is well lit or play games to while away the black-out. My eyes are tired now and whereas I could read a book by candle-light as a youngster, I certainly can't now. I have a large stock of wood to heat the house and gas to cook on. A generator might be an idea too.

I guess these younger environmentalists have no idea what it is like to live day by day without electricity on demand. I expect they will change their tune once it starts to happen. Too bad that they actually have to experience it, along with the rest of us wot kno, before they wake up to the reality.

Mar 11, 2013 at 2:01 PM | Unregistered CommenterGrumpy

Roy:

"Probably the most stupid energy policy in the world."

Love it. I can remember the three day week in the 1970s very well. We could struggle on at work with candles and various lamps. Quite recently there was a power cut locally due to a cable being damaged. It was a totally different experience. Shops could not open because their doors are electrically powered or their tills. Banks of course were shut, the computers were down. Lights and traffic lights were out. It only lasted a few hours but it was quite frightening. A sustained cut would see civilization breaking down very rapidly.

The triumph of the environmentalists.

Mar 11, 2013 at 2:42 PM | Unregistered CommenterMike Fowle

@ Justice4Rinka:
Easter Island comes to mind really.

A great visual!
An Easter Island statue with a tear on its cheek
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Keep_America_Beautiful

Mar 11, 2013 at 4:55 PM | Unregistered CommenterStephen Rasey

Grant

Tescos are selling vegetable oil: two 5 litre jars for £10.
Think its rapeseed so packed with those healthy fatty acids and also cheaper than diesel:-)

Mar 11, 2013 at 5:08 PM | Unregistered Commenterrednose

Off at a tangent - but ironic:-

Poultry producer Bernard Matthews will be ordered to replant more than 300 trees felled at one of its farms. The company cut down 342 mature trees at Oulton, near Aylsham, Norfolk, on a site where it hopes to erect a 262ft (80m) wind turbine.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-norfolk-21738858

Mar 11, 2013 at 5:40 PM | Unregistered CommenterJoe Public

rednose,

Last time I looked it was sunflower oil, but I think you have a few probs if you use it in its own in a modern diesel. It's probably cheaper if you go to a wholesaler and buy big drums.

Biofuels in action eh?

I'm not sure but red diesel is probably cheaper and a safer bet for use in an engine.

Mar 11, 2013 at 6:12 PM | Unregistered Commentercosmic

Cosmic

Darn. Rape seed oil is the more healthy alternative apparently.

My sister used to run her 10 year old van on old chip oil which had just been filtered.
Seemed to go OK, except it smelled of chips. The van is still going well but she has to use normal diesel now as she cannot get cheap chip oil anymore. Demand has raised the price and healthier eating reduced the supply.

Mar 11, 2013 at 7:09 PM | Unregistered Commenterrednose

@ Mar 11, 2013 at 11:46 AM |  Derek Buxton writes:
"Am I missing something here, we cannot burn coal because of EU rules but Germany can."

This I what our friends hangin' out on Bishop's grassy hill had to say when I asked the same question:

I have a question that maybe somebody can help me with? Why is Holland taking two or three new coal fired power stations into service next year? How come the UK has to close them while we open three new ones? We are part of Europe. What am I missing?

Mar 6, 2013 at 7:59 PM |  Wijnand

Mar 6, 2013 at 8:44 PM | Wijnand

New coal-fired power stations being built in Holland will have to satisfy the new SOx, NOx and particulate limits which come into force on 1 January 2016.


Current LCPD opt-in ............................... IED opt-in from 01 JAN 2016

<400mg/m3 for SO2 .................................. <200mg/m3 for SO2
<500mg/m3 for NOx ...................................<200mg/m3 for NOx
<50mg/m3 for particulates ............................<20mg/m3 for particulates

The technology is readily available and it is easy to incorporate in new-build.

Trying to retro-fit ancient coal-burners, as in the UK, is difficult and very expensive. That is why most of them are converting from coal to wood pellets.

The UK is handicapped by politicians who say "no new coal without CCS" and then put laws in place to back it up.

Mar 6, 2013 at 9:58 PM |  Brownedoff

Indeed, the closure of UK coal fired power stations has nothing to do with CO2 emissions but dates back to a much earlier EU directive relating to SOx and NOx emissions.

Mar 6, 2013 at 10:04 PM |  Arthur Dent

http://www.bishop-hill.net/blog/2013/3/6/uks-fuel-low-indicator-just-came-on.html?currentPage=2#comments

Mar 11, 2013 at 7:24 PM | Unregistered CommenterWijnand

You know how it goes. If they paid some company a subsidy to slaughter eagles they Eco-freaks would cheer them on ....

Mar 11, 2013 at 10:34 PM | Unregistered CommenterBruce

At least some of the wood is coming from Virginia:

http://biomassmagazine.com/articles/7901/pellet-plant-breaks-ground-in-va-brings-economic-growth

Take the 200 trucks per day delivering wood to the plant, and the fuel needed to load, unload and drive the ships cross the ocean (and back). What is the CO2 output of those processes? And some claim burning trees harvested for power production is worse than coal, because it takes years to re-grow the trees. Go figure.

Mar 12, 2013 at 7:58 PM | Unregistered Commenteroeman50

Doug Proctors comment on Tallbloke...........


I can see a future where the economics of wood chips becomes unsustainable under even the current generous subsidies. DRAX then comes back to the trough OR there is another costly conversion.

So much of this is obvious nonsense that I fall back on a painfully-learnt truth: if something seems “off”, you are missing some of the story.

Why is this happening? It is not just money but power.

We have seen how the British aristocracy is still connected to both decision-making power, the helms of industry and land holdings that benefit from State-subsidized windpower. I’d check directorships, investment-houses for powerful Brits – and that would be not just for DRAX itself, but for those who own the wood chip sources, the ships crossing the Atlantic and the huge train transport systems that will be needed.

Speaking of trains: the article says there are 36,000 tons of coal burned each day, requiring 140 coal trains per week. Without doing any Google search, the energy density of wood chips has got to be 1/5th of coal, so right there we have 180,000 tons of wood chips each day, requiring (physical density of wood 1/2? coal), 140 X 5 X 2 or 980 trainloads/week!

Why? Check the ownership of the trains. Plus the off-loading of the ports.

The other thing to check: if there really is a replacement need of 980 trainloads per week, can DRAX handle the capacity? Can the port facility handle the workload? Is this a phantom? Can DRAX handle the 7% of British electricity demand as a wood burning facility?

If I knew how to put the above in bold-face, itallicized and red, I would: there is something funny about the numbers that are implicit in the story. Perhaps what we are seeing is a way to shut-down 1/3 of DRAX output, with the requirement that a 2/3 DRAX windpower system (X5, due to output efficiencies) be built.

As I said, there is some story we are not seeing.</blockquote

Mar 12, 2013 at 9:30 PM | Unregistered CommenterClive Best

Lunacy indeed Bish, I have watched this madness evolve as have most posting here & never really thought at the end of day this would really come to pass.
surely common sense must kick in at some point even for the dumbest MP/Bureaucrat!!!
but no, EU career hopefuls/idiots now decide our countries future/failure (millipede should be first in the dock followed by the subsequent useful to the agenda or ignorant to reality idiots)

ps. wishing i hadnt had 2 trees removed from my garden 10 yrs ago to get more summer sun :-(

Mar 12, 2013 at 11:35 PM | Unregistered Commenterdougieh

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