Plans to double capacity at 'hollow mountain' hydro power plant will generate hundreds of jobs

Plans are pushing ahead to more than double generating capacity at Scotland’s iconic “hollow mountain” power station.

Energy giant Drax Group is kickstarting the planning process to build a new underground pumped hydro storage power station at the Cruachan facility in Argyll.

The ambitious project should support almost 900 jobs in rural areas across the country during construction and will provide critical storage capacity needed to support a net zero power system.

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The 600-megawatt power station will be located inside Ben Cruachan – Argyll’s highest mountain – and increase the site’s total capacity to just over one gigawatt.

Cruachan Dam in Argyll holds back enough water to fil 4,440 Olympic-sized swimming pools.
Cruachan Dam in Argyll holds back enough water to fil 4,440 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

The existing hydro facility is set inside a hollowed-out cavern in Ben Cruachan. Despite construction starting in 1959, its reversible turbines are still at the cutting edge of energy storage technology, enabling the plant to act like a giant water battery. Its turbines pump water from Loch Awe to an upper reservoir on the mountainside to store excess power from the grid.

Last week, Banff and Buchan Tory MP David Duguid visited the site to hear more about Drax Group’s plans for the new hydro project.

More than a million tonnes of rock will need to be excavated to create the cavern and other parts of the power station. The existing upper reservoir, which can hold 2.4 billion gallons of water, has the capacity to serve both power facilities.

Drax chief executive Will Gardiner said: “This is an exciting and important project which underlines Drax’s commitment to tackling the climate crisis and supporting the energy system as it continues to decarbonise.

“Our plans to expand Cruachan will unlock more renewable electricity to power homes and businesses across the country, and support hundreds of new jobs in rural Scotland

“Last year, the UK’s lack of energy storage capacity meant wind farms had to be paid to turn off and we lost out on enough renewable power to supply a million homes. We need to stop renewable power from going to waste by storing it, and Drax is ready to move mountains to do just that.”

In order to deploy its technology, the firm must secure consent under the Electricity Act 1989 from Scottish Ministers – a process which takes about a year to complete from the application’s submission.

Alongside a successful application, the project will also require an updated policy and market support mechanism from the UK government.

Brendan O’Hara, Argyll & Bute MP, said: “I am delighted that Drax is progressing plans to expand the Ben Cruachan site.

“This will support 900 rural jobs and create a pumped storage facility that will be able to provide enough renewable energy to power a million homes while helping us reach our 2045 net zero target.”

Jenni Minto, Argyll & Bute MSP, said: “Investment in new pumped storage hydro capacity could greatly enhance the flexibility and resilience of the electricity network and help us move towards meeting our ambitious global climate change targets.

“In the run-up to COP26 in Glasgow, it’s more vital than ever that we come up with innovative solutions to the climate emergency.”

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