ClientEarth in High Court challenge over consent for new gas plants at Drax

Development consent given to Drax Power to install four new gas turbines at its North Yorkshire site has been challenged in the High Court by environmental law charity ClientEarth.

The charity says the government’s own planning authority said the UK’s largest new gas plant should be blocked on climate change grounds.

Sam Hunter Jones, in-house lawyer for ClientEarth, said: “The Secretary of State has ignored the recommendations of her own planning authority, and her decision is at odds with the government’s own climate change plans to decarbonise in a cost-effective manner.”

ClientEarth previously outlined its objections to the plant in hearings last year and says the Planning Inspectorate responded with a warning over carbon emissions and significant risk of locking in those emissions for many years – the first time that the authority has recommended a major project be refused permission for its future climate impact.

ClientEarth quoted  National Infrastructure Planning’s comment that “both the Applicant and [National Grid] confirmed that it is the production of renewable plants that will deliver cheaper energy than fossil fuel plants for the reasons given above. … [T]he operating life of the Proposed Development presents a significant risk of high carbon lock-in after the planning horizon of 2025 identified in the NPS EN-1. In addition, the possibility and cost of early decommissioning has not been accounted for by the Applicant, in line with policy objectives of affordability and decarbonisation.”

The government’s latest forecasts estimate that the UK will need 6GW of new gas generation through to 2035. However, the UK has already greenlit more than 15GW worth of large-scale gas plants. Approving Drax’s project would take this to.

In its planning application, Drax claimed its proposal for four combined cycle gas turbines (CCGT) was warranted to replace its existing two coal-fired units.

Hunter Jones added: “In its planning application, Drax failed to explain how this emissions-intensive gas project squares with the UK’s carbon targets and its strategy for clean growth. And the government’s own energy forecasts show that the UK does not need a major roll out of new large-scale gas generation capacity.

“As the Planning Inspectorate found, if this plant goes ahead the public risks a carbon budget blowout, or a huge stranded asset that would require propping up by the taxpayer, or a combination of the two.”

ClientEarth said the proposed development’s emissions of up to 12Mt of CO2 per year would represent approximately three-quarters of the allocation to the power sector envisaged in the government’s Clean Growth Strategy  (16Mt of carbon dioxide per year in 2028).

Further reading

Drax sets out ambition to be ‘carbon negative’ by 2030

Upgrade will add 40MW and flexibility at Shoreham power station

Drax granted DCO for gas-fired plant at Abergelli

Carbon capture projects win £26 million in government funding

Five gas-fired plants under examination at NIP


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