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Drax faces criminal charges over worker safety concerns

Drax is facing criminal charges over alleged health risks faced by workers at its power station.

According to Sky News, the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) has brought two charges against Drax which will be heard at the Magistrates Court in November.

The HSE is particularly concerned about workers’ exposure to dust from wood pellets which are burned at Drax’s Selby power plant.

It is also reportedly charged with breaching risk assessment obligations before allowing employees to work with potentially "hazardous substances" at the UK’s largest biomass station.

A Drax spokesperson told NCE: “We can confirm that we have received notice of legal action from the Health and Safety Executive in relation to wood dust at Drax Power Station but as this is an ongoing legal issue we cannot provide any further information at this time.

“The health, safety and wellbeing of our colleagues is a priority for Drax.”

Ember's chief operating officer and lead UK analyst Phil MacDonald told Sky News: "I very much hope that the health of workers has not been ignored as the UK has embraced biomass as a climate-friendly electricity source.

"Looking at the bigger picture, the UK still treats burning wood in power stations as if it were carbon neutral, despite recent science demonstrating this is unlikely to be true.

"The UK government needs to fundamentally reassess the costs and benefits of the technology before releasing new subsidies to the industry."

Green groups have repeatedly written to prime minister Boris Johnson asking him to reconsider subsidising industrial scale biomass fuelled power at the Drax power plant in North Yorkshire.

Drax received £790M in 2019 and £832M in 2020 from the government to subsidise its energy production.

Instead groups including the RSPB, The Wildlife Trusts, Wildlife, Friends of the Earth, Countryside Link and Greenpeace have called for the government to encourage the development of bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (Beccs).

A letter sent to Johnson in July states that Drax is "the biggest tree burner in the world" and "vast sums of public money" could be saved if it was reinvested in "real climate solutions" instead, such as low-carbon energy (solar and wind) and protecting and restoring biodiverse ecosystems and carbon sinks in the UK and overseas.

It also warns that industrial scale biomass-burning for electricity exacerbates climate change, degrades forests and threatens wildlife and emits dangerous air pollution.

The letter says: "The evidence makes clear that biomass-burning in power stations at the scale currently relied upon by the UK cannot be sustainable. Burning wood for large-scale electricity generation worsens climate change immediately, and the harm it causes can persist for decades or even centuries.

"It also endangers the very ecosystems we rely on to help stabilise global temperatures and make communities more resilient to climate change.”

In January, a legal challenge to the UK government’s approval of the two new gas-fired units at Drax failed.

Lawyers for ClientEarth said the power plant could account for 75% of the UK’s power sector emissions when fully operational.

Drax applied in May 2018 for a development consent order to construct and operate the two new gas fired units at the plant, which would have an overall capacity of up to 3,800Mw.

The application was approved in October 2019, and the high court rejected ClientEarth’s initial legal challenge last May.

Following the court verdict, a Drax spokesperson said: “Drax power station plays a vital role in the UK’s energy system, generating reliable electricity for millions of homes and businesses.”

The spokesperson emphasised the fact that the company aims to be capturing more carbon dioxide than it emitted by 2030 by burning plants or wood in other power stations and burying the emissions.

The project still depends on Drax’s investment decisions and on securing a capacity market contract from the government.

Original Source: https://www.newcivilengineer.com/latest/drax-faces-criminal-charges-over-worker-safety-concerns-02-09-2021/

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