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New £500m pumped storage hydro plant given green light

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The Drax Group has been granted development consent from the Scottish Government for a new £500m underground pumped storage hydro plant at its existing Cruachan facility in Argyll, in what is being called a “significant moment in Scotland’s journey to Net Zero”.

New pumped storage hydro plants are seen as an essential part of the UK’s transition to clean energy, acting like “giant water batteries” to help balance the grid by storing power generated from renewables such as wind and solar farms when supply outstrips demand.

The new 600MW plant is part of a wider £7 billion strategic investment plan by Drax in clean energy technologies between 2024 and 2030, such as long duration storage and Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS), which help to tackle climate change and enhance national energy security. Constructed adjacent to the existing underground facility, the plant would effectively more than double the site’s total generation capacity to over 1GW. 

Humza Yousaf at Cruachan Dam where a new pumped storage hydro facility is being built

When visiting the site, the First Minister of Scotland Humza Yousaf (pictured left) said:

“I’m delighted to visit Cruachan today to hear more about the plans to grow Scotland’s pumped storage hydro capacity through the expansion of the existing facility in Argyll.

“Hydro power has real potential to play a greater role in our transition to net zero, and to help ensure a resilient and secure electricity supply across the UK. The expansion of Cruachan will help to strengthen our energy security by providing much needed resilience in the system, supporting hundreds of jobs and providing a real boost to the Scottish economy.

“However, we know that there remain a number of challenges in developing new hydro power projects in Scotland. The Scottish Government will continue to urge the UK government to provide an appropriate market mechanism for hydro power and other long duration energy storage technologies, to ensure that the potential for hydro power is fully realised.”

Will Gardiner, Drax Group CEO, said:

“This is a major milestone in Drax’s plans to build Britain’s first new pumped storage hydro plant in a generation.

“These plants play a critical role in stabilising the electricity system, helping to balance supply and demand through storing excess power from the national grid. When Scotland’s wind turbines are generating more power than we need, Cruachan steps in to store the renewable electricity so it doesn’t go to waste.

“With the right support from the UK Government, Drax will invest c.£500m to more than double Cruachan’s generating capacity and support almost 1,000 jobs across the supply chain during construction.”

The Drax Group owns and operates a portfolio of renewable electricity generation assets in England and Scotland, including the UK’s largest power station at Selby, North Yorkshire, which supplies 5% of the country’s electricity needs and recently ended 50 years of power generation from coal, in favour of biomass.

In addition to the existing pumped storage hydro facility within the hollowed-out mountain Ben Cruachan, the group has 19 operational pellet plants, supplies renewable electricity to UK businesses and also piloted the first BECCS project in Europe at its power station from 2018. More information can be found at www.drax.com.

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