LONDON (Reuters) - The British unit of German utility RWE on Wednesday submitted applications for permits to allow its Tilbury coal-fired power plant, which it has turned into a biomass station, run beyond a closure date set by EU environmental law.
The Tilbury plant in Essex east of London is expected to race through operating hours allocated under the EU's Large Combustion Plant Directive (LCPD) by the end of 2013 at the latest, but re-licensing the station as a biomass plant would extend its lifetime by at least 10 years.
"With the viewpoint that we are going to run out (of allocated hours), it's important that we start making those planning (applications) now so that the county council and the Environment Agency can determine them and then we can look at that plant moving forward post closure under LCPD," a spokeswoman for RWE npower said.
Obtaining new environmental and planning licences for the biomass plant is expected to take around 9 months, meaning that the station is expected to shut down for a period between when its LCPD allocated hours run out and when it can resume operations under the new permits, if they are given.
RWE npower said it was too soon to give a potential start date for the re-licensed plant or to comment on investments needed to upgrade the plant to fit new permit requirements.
If the plant receives new permits it will be able to operate until at least 2023 under EU law restricting emissions of climate-warming gases and pollution from power plants.
RWE npower opened the converted Tilbury plant in January, before a fire that ripped through the site closed it for four months until June.
Rival utility E.ON is also planning to convert one 500-MW unit at its Ironbridge coal plant to biomass early next year.
A spokesman said the current plan was for the plant to operate until the end of 2015 or until its LCPD allocated hours are used up, whichever comes first.
Reporting by Karolin Schaps, editing by William Hardy