APPROVAL has been granted to an energy firm for the construction of a new underground pumped storage hydro plant in Argyll.

The Scottish Government gave the go-ahead to energy firm Drax for the £500 million project at its existing Cruachan facility, which will contribute to Scotland’s net zero ambitions.

Pumped storage hydro plans are likened to giant batteries as they are able to store excess energy created by wind or solar power.

Reversible turbines pump water from a lower reservoir to an upper reservoir during periods when excess power from renewable sources outstrips demand.

The turbines are reversed to bring the water back through the plant therefore generating power when it is needed.

First Minister Humza Yousaf visited Drax’s existing power station on the banks of Loch Awe on Tuesday.

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Yousaf has previously written to Rishi Sinak urging him to take action to ensure that developers are given the confidence to build a new generation of pumped storage hydro plants.

He said: “I’m delighted to visit Cruachan today to hear more about the plans to grow Scotland’s pumped storage hydro capacity through the expansion of the existing facility in Argyll.

“Hydro power has real potential to play a greater role in our transition to net zero, and to help ensure a resilient and secure electricity supply across the UK.

“The expansion of Cruachan will help to strengthen our energy security by providing much needed resilience in the system, supporting hundreds of jobs and providing a real boost to the Scottish economy.

“However, we know that there remain a number of challenges in developing new hydro power projects in Scotland. The Scottish Government will continue to urge the UK government to provide an appropriate market mechanism for hydro power and other long duration energy storage technologies, to ensure that the potential for hydro power is fully realised.”

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Drax is set to invest £7 billion in clean energy technologies between 2024-2030.

Plans m The new 600 MW plant at Cruachan forms part of Drax’s broader strategic plan, investing £7 billion in clean energy technologies from 2024 to 2030.

This spending is expected to include plans for long-duration storage and bioenergy with carbon capture.

The new plant at Cruachan will sit alongside the existing facility, more than doubling the site’s generation capacity to over 1 gigawatt.

Will Gardiner, Drax Group CEO, said: “This is a major milestone in Drax’s plans to build Britain’s first new pumped storage hydro plant in a generation.

“These plants play a critical role in stabilising the electricity system, helping to balance supply and demand through storing excess power from the national grid. When Scotland’s wind turbines are generating more power than we need, Cruachan steps in to store the renewable electricity so it doesn’t go to waste.

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“With the right support from the UK government, Drax will invest c.£500m to more than double Cruachan’s generating capacity and support almost 1,000 jobs across the supply chain during construction.”

However, the viability of the project relies upon the UK Government providing updated financial stabilisation mechanisms.

Industry leaders say the lack of such a framework has hindered the construction of new plants in the UK for decades.