Scottish Government approves Drax’s £500m hydro storage plant

Drax Group has secured development consent from the Scottish Government to build a £500m pumped storage hydro facility, which would be the first long-duration storage plant to be constructed in the UK in almost 40 years.

Scottish Government approves Drax’s £500m hydro storage plant

Drax claims the project will support almost 1,000 jobs across the supply chain during construction

The £500m underground pumped storage hydro plant would be located at Drax’s existing Cruachan facility in Argyll, Scotland.

Drax claims that long-duration storage plants would be a crucial enabler in allowing more solar and wind power to come online.

Drax’s chief executive Will Gardiner said: “This is a major milestone in Drax’s plans to build Britain’s first new pumped storage hydro plant in a generation.

“These plants play a critical role in stabilising the electricity system, helping to balance supply and demand through storing excess power from the national grid. When Scotland’s wind turbines are generating more power than we need, Cruachan steps in to store the renewable electricity so it doesn’t go to waste.”

Pumped storage plants use reversible turbines to pump water from a low underground reservoir to a higher-up storage area on the site, which stores excess power from sources such as wind farms when supply outstrips demand. The same turbines can then bring the stored water back through the system to generate power when demand outstrips supply.

Drax claims the project will support almost 1,000 jobs across the supply chain during construction.

The 600MW hydro plant is part of a £7bn investment plan from Drax to target clean energy solutions up to 2030. It would be constructed adjacent to the existing underground facility, and almost double the site’s capacity to more than 1GW.

Policy pains

Drax has also called on the UK Government to introduce new frameworks and legislation that would enable greater uptake of large-scale, long-duration storage technologies. No new plants of this type have been constructed in the UK since 1984.

Earlier this year, Drax paused its £2bn investment scheme in bioenergy with carbon capture (CCS) at its power plant in North Yorkshire, stating that it needs a “firm” offer of support from the UK Government before proceeding.

Drax has called for a funding package that will cover CCS co-located with bioenergy – specifically biomass – before proceeding with its plans to deliver 2.6GW of biomass generation with CCS fitted.

BECCS technologies have been in place at Drax’s Selby power plant in North Yorkshire since February 2019 and have been scaling up in stages ever since. Drax intends to bring its first full-scale BECCS unit online at the site in 2024 at the earliest and add a second by 2030, capturing eight million tonnes of CO2e annually. This entire workstream has been costed at some £2bn.

Whether the UK Government should financially support Drax has been a debate among environmentalists for years. At the start of 2023, Drax posted a major year-on-year uplift in profits from £398m to £731m. Ember claims that Drax received some £893m in subsidies in 2021.

Green groups have also been calling for greater scrutiny of the impact of Drax’s supply chains on forests and for improved carbon accounting.

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