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Fri July 30 2021

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Drax sets out plan to expand ‘Hollow Mountain’ hydro plant

25 Jun Renewable energy company Drax has begun the planning process for the expansion of its ‘Hollow Mountain’ power station at Cruachan.

Work to build Drax’s new pumped storage hydro power station could begin as soon as 2024 and entails removing a million tonnes of rock from inside Ben Cruachan. It would create hundreds of jobs.

The project would more than double the electricity generating capacity at the facility in Scotland. The 600MW power station will be located inside Ben Cruachan – Argyll’s highest mountain – and increase the site’s total capacity to 1.04GW. The new power station would be built within a new, hollowed-out cavern which would be large enough to fit Big Ben on its side, to the east of Drax’s existing 440MW pumped storage hydro station. More than a million tonnes of rock would be excavated to create the cavern and other parts of the power station. The existing upper reservoir, which can hold 2.4 billion gallons of water, has the capacity to serve both power stations.

The company said that the decision to seek planning permission to expand pumped storage hydro at Cruachan demonstrates its commitment to Scotland and is a landmark moment in unlocking the vast renewable resources needed in the UK.

Pumped hydro storage will help Scotland towards its target of reaching net zero by 2045, five years before the UK as a whole, it said.

The project, announced as the UK prepares to host the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow, will support almost 900 jobs in rural areas across Scotland during construction and will provide critical storage capacity needed to support a net-zero power system, said Drax.

Like Drax’s existing site, the new station will be able to provide stability services to the power system, acting like a giant water battery. By using reversible turbines to pump water from Loch Awe to the upper reservoir on the mountainside, the station can store power from wind farms when supply outstrips demand.

An artist’s impression of Cruachan 2 (top) and the existing Cruachan Power Station (bottom) - click to enlarge
An artist’s impression of Cruachan 2 (top) and the existing Cruachan Power Station (bottom) - click to enlarge

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The stored water would then be released back through the turbines to generate power quickly when demand increases. This will help to cut energy costs by reducing the need for wind farms to be paid to turn off when they are generating excess power, said Drax. The new station would have the capacity to generate enough power for around a million homes.

Will Gardiner, Drax Group CEO, said: “This is an exciting and important project which underlines Drax’s commitment to tackling the climate crisis and supporting the energy system as it continues to decarbonise. Our plans to expand Cruachan will unlock more renewable electricity to power homes and businesses across the country, and support hundreds of new jobs in rural Scotland.

“Last year, the UK’s lack of energy storage capacity meant wind farms had to be paid to turn off and we lost out on enough renewable power to supply a million homes. We need to stop renewable power from going to waste by storing it, and Drax is ready to move mountains to do just that.”

Brendan O’Hara, Argyll & Bute MP, said: “I am delighted that Drax is progressing plans to expand the Ben Cruachan site. This will support 900 rural jobs and create a pumped storage facility that will be able to provide enough renewable energy to power a million homes while helping us reach our 2045 net zero target, it is great news for this area and for Scotland.”

Jenni Minto, Argyll & Bute MSP, said: “Investment in new pumped storage hydro capacity could greatly enhance the flexibility and resilience of the electricity network and help us move towards meeting our ambitious global climate change targets. In the run-up to COP26 in Glasgow, it’s more vital than ever that we come up with innovative solutions to the climate emergency and ensure that future generations to reap the rewards of Scotland’s vast renewable potential.”

In order to deploy the technology, Drax must secure consent under Section 36 of the Electricity Act 1989 from Scottish ministers – a process which takes about a year to complete from the application’s submission.

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