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4.6.3. Improved resilience of biomass fuel supply chain

Drax Power Limited is a power company in the United Kingdom. Its power plant in Immingham generates electricity by means of boilers with a joint maximum capacity of about 4 GW, three of which are powered by biomass pellets. Drax claims to source all wood pellets from sustainable, working forests to minimise net carbon releases to the atmosphere. To maintain a reliable stream of biomass, Drax relies on maritime transport of wood pellets from North America. The United Kingdom has experienced several storm surges and coastal flooding in recent years, events expected to become more frequent and stronger under future climate change. The impacts of such events on energy infrastructure are significant. They include damage to supply lines, such as port infrastructure, and impacts to coastal or river-based power stations themselves. For example, Immingham port lost power in significant areas during a storm surge events of 2013 due to localised flooding in sub-stations.

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Drax has implemented a multi-port strategy in order to alleviate the threat of supply chain backlog if the primary harbour is temporarily inoperable due to a weather-related event or other causes by means of additional biomass terminals at the ports of Tyne, Hull and Liverpool. Moreover, terminal designs at these harbours have been structurally adapted to avoid localised flooding events. Implemented adaptation measures at the Immingham site include raising power plant equipment above potential storm surge water levels, constructing protective sea walls, fitting subterranean tunnels with storm surge barriers, and planning above ground construction of future tunnels. Similar measures have been implemented at the other locations.

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The geographic spread of ports and flood management measures in ports has allowed Drax to significantly increase its import capacity for wood pellet biomass. The climate benefits as well as biodiversity impacts of the fuel change from fossil fuels to biomass need to be considered on an individual basis. Such an analysis is beyond the scope of this report. However, the adaptation benefits of this project are clear, and they seem transferable to other regions and projects. However, the debate about the wider sustainability aspects of Drax’s biomass strategy stresses that there can be synergies as well as trade-offs between climate change adaptation, mitigation and other environmental and social concerns. The development of adaptation strategies by public and private actors needs to consider those concerns comprehensively in order to avoid maladaptation.

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