June 21, 2012 / 4:05 PM / 8 years ago

RWE's Tilbury biomass plant restarts after fire

LONDON (Reuters) - Germany’s RWE said its biomass power plant at Tilbury resumed exporting electricity to the British energy grid on Thursday for the first time since a fire ripped through the site in February.

“Everyone on site has been working hard to get the station up and running following the fire in February and the first of the station’s three units has now been returned to service,” it said in a statement.

The two other units at the plant near London are not expected back until at least the end of July, it said, due to continuing refit work.

RWE said the fire, which broke out in a fuel storage facility containing some 4,000-6,000 tonnes of wood pellets, had no single cause.

It blamed a number of minor events that led to the blaze.

“When wood pellets in neighbouring hoppers were moved, significant air drafts were created and, despite fire suppressant foam having been used to cap the affected areas, it is likely that the increased levels of oxygen caused the ignition of the smouldering dust,” RWE said.

“Although it has not been possible to definitively identify the mechanism for the escalation, this is considered to be the most likely cause,” it added.

The three units together generate 750 megawatts (MW), making the plant Britain’s largest dedicated biomass station.

It started producing electricity in February after RWE npower, the UK arm of the German utility, converted its polluting coal-fired generation units to fire 100 percent wood pellets.

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.

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.

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

Reporting by Oleg Vukmanovic, editing by William Hardy

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