Success and limiting factors:
The geographic spread of ports and flood management measures in ports has allowed Drax to increase its import capacity from the US for wood pellet biomass up to 2 million tonnes per year. There is some controversy regarding the climate benefits as well as biodiversity impacts of the fuel change from fossil fuels to biomass at Drax power plants. Drax is committed to sourcing wood (predominantly harvesting residues and low-value roundwood) from working forests rather than primary forests, and to ensure that the environmental benefits of such forests are maintained (through, for example, tree planting). However, the use of predominantly US forest biomass has attracted some criticism from non-governmental organisations in the US who believe that increased biofuel demand in general, and the increased demand for wood pellets from Drax in particular, is responsible for damage to forest habitats and may even increase GHG emissions. The EEA is not able to take a position in this complex debate, which involves government agencies, non-governmental organisations, certification service providers as well as further experts and stakeholders. The adaptation benefits of this project are not controversial, and they seem transferable to other regions and projects. However, the debate about the wider sustainability aspects of Drax’s biomass strategy stresses that there can be synergies as well as trade-offs between climate change adaptation, mitigation and other environmental and social concerns. The development of adaptation strategies by public and private actors needs to consider those concerns comprehensively in order to avoid maladaptation. As part of its continuous work aiming to improve Climate-ADAPT contents, EEA will evaluate if additional information is available to review these aspects.
Budget, funding and additional benefits:
The geographical splitting of biomass supply between multiple ports on both the East and West coasts of the UK reduces the risk of climate events on an interrupted fuel supply. The strategy also allows larger biomass fuel imports to take place, permitting further conversion of the Drax power plant from coal to biomass. Drax can now receive shipments from ships with 65,000 tonne capacities due to investments made by the ports underwritten by long-term contracts with Drax. For example, Drax has invested £135m (€150m) at Immingham to facilitate efficient transport of biomass from the US. The Port of Immingham has invested £4.7 million in the construction of a new outer dock gate to protect against 1 in 1000 year flooding events, and £0.5 million in flood resilience works to electrical substations. Furthermore, when Drax reaches maximum capacity with the projected conversion of a fourth power plant later this year, they find themselves in the unique position of being able to assist other biofuel operators with biomass stocks in times of need.
A storm surge in 2013 caused a loss of biomass deliveries to the Drax power plant. As a results, coal was used in order to continue generating power. By now, all of Drax’s boilers run exclusively on 100% biomass. Therefore, assuring a continued biomass supply and preventing damage to biomass stocks from flooding is imperative to their business. If a flooding event such as in 2013 happened today, without adaptation measures, the expected costs to Drax due to loss of operations would be £1 million/day. If the fuel shortage were to lead to power cuts, the wider societal costs would be much higher.