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Drax says big power stations will remain important

The owner of the UK’s largest power station has argued its giant plant in North Yorkshire can still play a meaningful role in the country’s energy system, even as more electricity is provided by renewables and smaller plants that fill gaps when wind and solar power is not available. Drax expects its plant, which covers a 2,500 acre site, will play a significant role providing services to the UK’s National Grid, such as helping to keep the electricity fed through the system at a stable frequency and providing reserve power to cater for unplanned losses of generation or peaks of demand. The company is examining its options for the plant as the UK aims to phase out coal fired power stations entirely by 2025. Three of the six coal-fired units at the site already burn wood biomass pellets and trials have been carried out to convert a fourth. Drax is also applying for planning permission to convert the remaining two units to gas and build a battery storage facility for electricity that could be one of the biggest of its kind in the world. Andy Koss, chief executive of Drax Power, said the plant’s future lay in the provision of flexible services, despite a decision by some energy companies to move away from large central power stations. “The key is around flexibility in the system and we want to be a provider of that flexibility,” Mr Koss said on Wednesday. Drax forecasts that providing services to National Grid, which operates the UK’s high voltage electricity transmission system, will be a growth area, as changes to Britain’s energy mix provide new challenges in balancing supply and demand. Centrica, the owner of British Gas, earlier this year sold its last big central power stations in the UK, betting that smaller plants that can be fired up quickly will be more relevant in future to smooth gaps in supply when renewables are not generating electricity. Drax’s plans for the North Yorkshire site would create the biggest gas plant in the UK, with a proposed generation capacity of up to 3.6 gigawatts. The economics of large gas plants have, however, been questioned in recent years and developers have been unwilling to go ahead without government subsidies. The latest government subsidy auction, held this month, also revealed a sharp fall in the costs of developing offshore wind farms. However, Mr Koss insisted that new combined cycle gas turbine plants would be needed in future as the UK’s remaining coal stations close by 2025 and ageing nuclear plants are decommissioned by 2030. Gas plants were also good for providing the sort of flexible services National Grid requires, he added.

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