RWE npower's 750-MW biomass power plant fires up

By Lisa Gibson | November 30, 2011

Within the next two weeks, RWE npower’s Tilbury, England, coal plant will be commissioned as a dedicated biomass power plant with an astonishing output of about 750 megawatts.

“We think it will be the largest biomass plant in the world,” said Dan Meredith, corporate public relations manager for RWE npower. The plant will use wood pellets, primarily from RWE’s 750,000-metric-ton-per-year wood pellet plant in Waycross, Ga.

The Tilbury plant is still operating under U.K. legislation enacted in 2008 that cracks down on large, older coal-fired power plants. Those plants were given the choice to invest in costly improvements, or opt out and agree to close after operating for an allowed 20,000 final hours. RWE opted not to make the upgrades to the 40-year-old Tilbury plant, but will finish its hours using solely biomass, Meredith explained. “It’s obviously coming to the end of its natural life,” he said.

At the end of those 20,000 hours, around mid-2013, RWE can commission the plant as a dedicated biomass plant and continue operating, Meredith said. He added that the company will make that decision, based on the success of burning biomass, in mid-2012.

The gargantuan plant is expected to use around 2.3 million metric tons of wood pellets between now and the end of its allowed hours in 2013. “We expect it to account for 10 percent of renewable energy output for the U.K. going into 2012,”Meredith said.

The plant is in a prime location for power generation, in the coastal English borough of Essex, and has provided about 300 jobs that RWE would like to keep, Meredith said. He wouldn’t speculate as to whether the company will choose to continue operating the biomass power plant after 2013, but said biomass is a great resource for the U.K.

“I think it is a very useful option for ourselves and the U.K.”