Drax scraps gas plant plans in Yorkshire, following climate concerns

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In 2019, Drax was given consent by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) to replace two coal generating units in North Yorkshire with a “high-efficiency” 3.6GW gas plant consisting of 200MW battery storage technology.

The decision has been long opposed by green groups who claim it would clash with the UK’s climate targets, including the net-zero target for 2050. Last month, the Court of Appeal dismissed a legal challenge to grant planning permission for Drax’s major new gas-fired power plant.

Environmental law firm ClientEarth opened legal proceedings against the government last January, arguing that emissions generated by the power plant would take the UK beyond the limits of its legally-binding climate commitments. Taking into account the planned coal phase-out and commitments around nuclear and renewable energy, ClientEarth argued that the plant, in Yorkshire, would account for up to 75% of the UK power sector’s annual emissions once operational.

ClientEarth also pointed out that the planning inspectorate recommended that ministers refuse planning permission for the 3.6GW gas plant on climate grounds. Then-BEIS-Secretary Andrea Leadsom went against this advice. 

However, Drax has today (25 February) decided to move away from gas-fired projects.

“We aim to be carbon negative by 2030 and are continuing to make progress,” Drax’s chief executive Will Gardiner said as part of the company’s full-year results.

“We are announcing today that we will not develop new gas-fired power at Drax. This builds on our decision to end commercial coal generation and the recent sale of our existing gas power stations.”

Last year, Drax announced plans to end commercial coal generation at its coal-fired power station in North Yorkshire in 2021 – ahead of the UK’s 2025 deadline.

Following a review of operations and discussions with National Grid, Ofgem and the UK Government, Drax has decided to move its commercial closure of coal generation to March 2021.

Drax announced its ambitions to become carbon negative by 2030 at the UN’s COP25 summit in December 2019.

The announcement comes as research from Carbon Tracker found that if all 14GW of planned power plants went ahead in the UK, which includes the 3.6GW pipeline from Drax, developers could be risking £9bn in stranded assets.

According to a report, the gas plants would produce 24 million tonnes of carbon emissions annually, around 7% of total UK emissions, which would severely hinder reaching the net-zero target by 2050.

Carbon Tracker’s head of power and utilities, Catharina Hillenbrand Von Der Neyen, said: “Today Drax announced the cancellation of its 3.6 GW CCGT complex. Of the 14 GW CCGT pipeline highlighted in our report, the Drax complex was the largest.

“This clearly underlines how power companies are waking up to the reality of the unfavourable economics of new gas plants and making the right investment decision by shelving their plans. Importantly, the economics of CEPs remain robust and would not alter had we modelled a different gas plant.”

Matt Mace

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