Powergen seeks permission for £800m conversion of Grain station

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The Independent Online

Powergen lodged a planning application yesterday for a £800m scheme to convert its oil-fired Isle of Grain station in Kent to burn gas, and effectively double the output from the facility.

Powergen lodged a planning application yesterday for a £800m scheme to convert its oil-fired Isle of Grain station in Kent to burn gas, and effectively double the output from the facility.

The move is designed to help ensure that Britain's electricity supplies do not begin to run dangerously low from the end of this decade when nuclear and coal-fired stations start to close in increasing numbers.

Powergen, part of the German utility E.ON, said it has put in for two consents - one to be allowed to burn gas at Grain and the other to convert its two remaining units to gas.

The company plans to equip each with three gas turbines, increasing the rating of the station from 1,300 megawatts to 2,400 megawatts - enough to produce power for more than two million homes or half the population of London.

At present Grain, which is inefficient and expensive to operate, runs only at occasional peak periods when the UK needs an extra power boost because other stations are not generating. Dr Paul Golby, the chief executive of E.ON UK, said that by converting to gas, Grain would be able to operate all year round and with less damage to the environment.

Various energy experts and parliamentary committees have warned that extreme winter weather could lead to blackouts over the next two years until new gas importing facilities come on stream. Beyond that, however, a fresh threat to security of supply will be posed by the retirement of Britain's ageing fleet of nuclear stations and new environmental legislation forcing the closure of older coal-fired stations. About half of all the UK's power stations are likely to have to be replaced by 2016

A new carbon emissions trading scheme which came into force at the start of the year could prompt the closure of some coal-fired stations and more will have to shut from 2008 when the European Union's large combustion plant directive takes effect. This requires coal-fired stations to be fitted with prohibitively expensive equipment to curb sulphur emissions.

Assuming the conversion of Grain gets the go-ahead, Powergen's capacity will rise to about 10,700 megawatts. It currently has 8,700 megawatts of capacity but plans to bring the 900 megawatt Killingholme gas-fired station in Lincolnshire out of mothballs this summer. The first electricity from the converted Grain station would start to flow towards the end of the decade.

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