March 1, 2012 / 8:36 AM / 5 years ago

RWE UK biomass plant shut until end July after blaze

LONDON, March 1 (Reuters) - Two out of three units at RWE npower's new biomass power plant at Tilbury in Essex in southeast England shut down on Monday following a fire, will not restart before the end of July, the operator said.

"Following the serious incident at Tilbury Power Station on the 27 February 2012, the earliest expected return date for unit 8 is 2nd April 2012 and for units 9 and 10 the 30th July 2012," the UK arm of German utility RWE said in a market message.

The three units together generate 750 megawatts (MW), making the plant Britain's largest dedicated biomass station. It started producing electricity only one month ago after RWE npower converted its polluting coal-fired generation units to fire 100 percent wood pellets.

The plant will shut down by the end of 2015 under an EU-wide directive that highly polluting power plants have to close.

On Wednesday evening fire fighters were still at the scene to help remove burnt wood pellets from the power plant, Essex County Fire and Rescue Service said.

The fire broke out on Monday morning in a fuel storage facility on the site which contained some 4,000-6,000 tonnes of wood pellets, but the cause of the incident is still unknown.

At the height of the blaze 120 fire fighters were on site and by Tuesday evening had sprayed enough foam to fill 308 double decker buses, the fire brigade said.

Chief Fire Officer David Johnson said the Tilbury blaze was one of the most challenging fires of his 20-year career due to the technical complexities of the burning wood pellets.

Fire fighters had to use foam to extinguish the fire instead of water which would have added weight to the wood pellets and could have caused further structural damage to the building.

The Tilbury plant is expected to use around 2.3 million tonnes of wood pellets, of which more than 90 percent is sourced from the U.S. or Canada. (Reporting by Karolin Schaps; editing by James Jukwey)

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