The long-serving chief executive of the UK’s biggest power station is stepping down, as the North Yorkshire-based business continues its pursuit of a future beyond coal.
Drax Group’s Dorothy Thompson will be succeeded by Will Gardiner, currently the chief financial officer, who will take over in January at a time when the company is eyeing a mix of gas, biomass and battery power to replace coal.
During her 12-year tenure, Thompson oversaw a period of major change, converting three of Drax’s huge coal-fired units to biomass and using acquisitions to expand into retail energy and gas power.
“I retire knowing the group is in excellent shape: it has the right strategy, the right team and in Will, the right leader,” said Thompson. She said the company’s scale meant it was a strategic player in UK electricity generation.
One of the few women at the top of one of the UK’s biggest energy generation companies, Thompson was not always comfortable in the glare of press scrutiny, but was a well-regarded leader who reinvented a major power firm.
Along the way, she secured what will amount to billions of pounds in public subsidies for its wood-burning units. The company says the biomass units provide a reliable form of renewable electricity but critics have said their carbon dioxide savings do not stack up.
With Theresa May reiterating this week that the UK will phase out coal power by 2025, the company knows its must continue to switch away from the fossil fuel. Last week Drax said it had informed planners it would consult on 3.6GW of new gas generation – slightly more than the capacity of the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station – and 0.2GW of battery storage.
Gardiner, who joined the company two years ago, said he would build on Thompson’s legacy. “The changes we are seeing in the UK energy sector are unprecedented and we have an opportunity to thrive while doing the right thing for the UK energy market,” he said.
The company’s share price was down by 0.45% to 309p after the announcement, but analysts welcomed Gardiner’s appointment. Analysts at the Royal Bank of Canada said he was ideally placed to take over, and had impressed during the last two years.