‘Risking a carbon budget blowout’: UK Government gives go-ahead to Drax gas plant

The UK Government is "risking a carbon budget blowout" by overruling a recommendation from its planning authority in order to give the green light to Drax's large-scale gas power plant, which had been refused on climate grounds.

‘Risking a carbon budget blowout’: UK Government gives go-ahead to Drax gas plant

The facility could become operational in October 2023. Image: Drax

The UK Planning Inspectorate had recommended that Drax’s planning application to install four new gas turbines at its Selby plant in North Yorkshire should be rejected due to concerns over its contribution to climate change. This marked the first time the authority had refused a major project on those grounds.

However, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Andrea Leadsom yesterday (7 October) overruled the recommendation.

The Inspectorate’s recommendation had accepted arguments and evidence from both environmental lawyers ClientEarth, energy policy experts Sandbag and the government’s own projections. The evidence provided suggested that the emissions from the new gas plant could be responsible for as much as 75% of the emissions budget for the entire UK power sector. This, the authority concluded, outweighed any benefits that the project may bring.

ClientEarth lawyer Sam Hunter Jones said: “We’re disappointed the Secretary of State has overruled the Planning Inspectorate’s decision to recommend – quite rightly – that the UK does not need this large-scale gas plant when it has publicly committed to rapid decarbonisation.

“The UK has already greenlit more gas capacity than the government’s own forecasts estimate will be required through to 2035. Approving Drax’s plant takes this to three times the government’s estimates – risking either a carbon budget blowout, a huge stranded asset requiring propping up by the taxpayer, or a combination of the two.”

Spiralling emissions

ClientEarth argues that, over the lifetime of the plant, the project could great additional greenhouse gas emissions 400% greater than the baseline scenario estimated by Drax. The law firm also argued that it could lock the UK into high-carbon power generation as the planned coal phase-out by 2025 continues.

A press release on Drax’s website claimed that the project would enable the power company to “deliver more reliable and flexible, high-efficiency electricity generation” and assist with the transition to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Drax claimed that, if developed, 1.8GW of new capacity would come online by October 2023 that would help “displace less efficient and higher carbon-emitting power stations, enabling further decarbonisation of the UK’s power system, whilst creating up to 800 jobs during construction”.

Drax must secure a capacity market agreement in order to reinforce the required investment to develop the first combined cycle generating unit.

Matt Mace

Comments (2)

  1. Tim Beesley says:

    Whilst being absolutely no fan of this project, would it have been worth mentioning two things:
    1) I understand that these turbines will be replacing ones currently powered by coal burning. They will therefore significantly reduce CO2 emissions compared to the current fuel.
    2) Drax is committed to CCUS research for its wood pellet burning units. I presume therefore that they have a serious intention to carry that work through to this project. If that is done and if the government stops prevaricating and builds a network to allow seabed injection, then the project does effectively become carbon neutral.
    Was this the reasoning for Leadsom authorising the build?

  2. Matthew Tulley says:

    An alternative for the Wood pellet burners is to produce charcoal or biochar. This solid carbon is much easier to store than CO2 gas – a bit like un-coalmining. It’s already being done in Oregon on a 35MW electricity plant. Thanks. Matthew Tulley

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie