A European Union environmental regulation is prompting big changes and some uncertainty about the future at the Tilbury B Power Station, located on the Thames River, 25 miles east of London. Work is under way to convert the former 1,050-MW coal-fired powerplant, closed in March, to what would be the world’s largest biomass plant, generating 750 MW. But thanks to the regulation  that prompted the plant's conversion, Tilbury’s future beyond 2015 is not yet certain, says its owner, RWE npower.

Photo courtesy of RWE npower
Tilbury is switching from burning coal to wood pellets as its fuel source.

RWE, which declines to disclose the project cost, expects to  “investigate the possibility of relicensing and operating to the new plant standards as required, but no discussions [with the British  government] have yet taken place,” according to Daniel Meredith, a  spokesman for RWE npower, Swindon, U.K. RWE “will also consider a number of other options for the site, such as converting to combined-cycle gas turbine, but won’t make any decisions until the government has made clear its future energy policy.”

The current project, on target for year-end completion, is a response to the Large Combustion Plant Directive, issued in 2001. The directive requires owners of all powerplants built before 1987 that generate over 50 MW to either install flue-gas desulphurization equipment or to opt out of meeting the directive.  Plants that opted out became restricted in their operations after 2007 and must close by 2016. Under the directive’s constraints Tilbury will be allowed to burn biomass through the end of 2015, but then must shut down. According to Meredith, “[European Union] policy is shifting the economics away from coal to renewable energies. We are in the process of transforming our legacy fleet [of powerplants] to a modern, efficient, diverse, low carbon portfolio [wind and other renewables, nuclear, and gas-fired]. This is another innovative way of supporting that objective. It will allow us to ‘learn by doing’ using biomass on this scale.”

RWE, which provided engineering guidance in conceptual design, is part of Germany’s RWE Group, which operates a number of biomass plants in Europe. An RWE subsidiary, Georgia Biomass, will provide the lion’s share of pellets for Tilbury. The pellet plant, in Waycross, Ga., started production in March.