EDF proposal to convert Cordemais and Le Havre power stations to waste wood or mixed waste: A Trojan Horse for burning coal and forest wood from 2022?
Update: EDF decided not to go ahead with a biomass project at Le Havre. In July 2021, EDF cancelled plans for the biomass project in Cordemais after their industrial partner, GDF Suez, withdrew from it.
The French government is committed to phasing out coal by 2022. For EDF, this would mean having to close its coal power stations in France, one in Cordemais in the Loire-Atlantique Department (600 1200 MW capacity), the other in Le Havre in Normandy (1,200600 MW capacity).
To avoid having to close these plants – which would mean having to write off two lucrative financial assets – EDF is proposing to convert them to biomass and/or mixed waste.
Since the Provence 4 power plant in Gardanne was converted to burning pellets and woodchips made from forest wood, there have been growing concerns about the impacts on forests and other wood industries. The government has said that it prefers the use of biomass in small and efficient combined heat and power plants. In this context, it is speaking about burning pellets made from waste wood, ‘green waste’, including domestic forest residues, and possibly pellets made from mixed waste.
Even if this was technically possible, it would still be highly problematic. Turning coal power stations into waste incinerators instead of closing them down is neither sustainable nor climate friendly and burning large amounts of forest residues harms forests as well as other industries which depend on such wood.
However, as shown in this briefing, it is not technically possible for power stations of the type in Cordemais and Le Havre to be converted to burning mixed waste, nor any type of biomass other than wood pellets from high-quality virgin wood. EDF has spoken of burning black or torrefied pellets made from waste feedstocks. Yet, despite decades of efforts by industry and researchers, nobody has succeeded in producing commercial-scale quantities of torrefied pellets and nobody has been able to operate such pellets plants on a continuous basis. EDF must know this.
Could the EDF’s talk about waste and residues be a means to win permission and subsidies to extend the lifespan of France’s largest two coal power stations in order to burn coal and/or large quantities of wood pellets sourced from forests around the world?