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RWE npower turns to biomass to save coal-fired power plant

RWE is Europe's greatest emitter of carbon dioxide. Now the energy giant wants to change that. Part of its move toward greener technologies is a switch to renewable fuel sources.

 - Tilbury has to clean up its act by 2015 or be shut down.
Tilbury has to clean up its act by 2015 or be shut down.
Source: RWE npower

Tilbury has a smoking problem. Just 42 years old, it has only four years left. That was the verdict of the European Commission, which put facilities like Tilbury on notice two years ago with its European Large Combustion Plant Directive (LCPD). Tilbury is a 1.1 GW coal-fired power plant in Essex, east of London, at the mouth of the River Thames. According to the EU directive, the Tilbury plant may operate for up to 20,000 more hours and must be shuttered by the end of 2015 at the latest -- unless it changes its ways, and its poison. And that's just what RWE npower wants to do. The plan is to switch from coal to biomass.

If the company succeeds in switching from coal to wood pellets, the plant will not only stay open but also earn 1.5 renewables obligation certificates (ROC) for every megawatt of power it produces. The British government introduced the ROC scheme to as a way of pushing power companies to pursue renewable generation. Under the scheme, power suppliers are required to generate a portion of the power they provide from renewable sources (currently 11.1 %). The power companies receive ROCs for each megawatt of "green" power they generate. If a company comes up short when the certificates are tallied, it has to pay for each missing ROC. As Europe's largest emitter of carbon, RWE can well use the ROCs from the Tilbury plant.

Over the next four years, RWE npower will experiment with wood pellet fuel and optimize the plant's fuel handling equipment for pellets. The company's goal is to transform the Tilbury plant into a 750 MW power station fired entirely with wood pellets. To that end, RWE is presently building the world’s largest pellet plant in the southern US state of Georgia. The plant is set to come on line this year and will have the capacity to produce 750,000 metric tons of pellets per year. (tph)

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