Government overrules planning authority over Drax gas plant

Energy minister Andrea Leadsom has approved plans for Drax Power to install four new gas turbines in North Yorkshire, overturning a decision by the UK’s Planning Inspectorate.

Drax, who operates the large biomass and coal-fired power station in Selby, wants to build four combined cycle gas turbines (CCGT) to replace its existing two coal-fired units ahead of the government’s proposed coal phase-out in 2025.

Drax’s proposal is considered a nationally significant infrastructure project under the 2008 Planning Act. This means that the plans must comply with the relevant national policy statements and the requirement in the Act that a project’s adverse environmental impacts do not outweigh its benefits.

However, ClientEarth, who were invited to produce a formal assessment to the Planning Inspectorate earlier this year, said that the combination of the project’s scale, high emissions intensity and long operating life make it a ‘significant’ threat to the UK’s carbon targets and could be responsible for as much as 75% of the emissions budget for the entire UK power sector.

The Planning Inspectorate agreed, saying the project’s climate impacts outweighed any benefits, and recommended refusal for the plans, which was the first time the planning authority had refused a major project on those grounds.

However, on Friday (October 4), Ms. Leadsom decided to overturn the UK planning inspectorate’s recommendation to refuse the plant due to environmental reasons and instead gave the go-ahead with the development.

Client Earth now says they are ‘considering their options’ after the decision.

Client Earth 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.’

‘With the UK’s coal phase-out planned for 2025, the coal-fired units stand to be decommissioned if the proposed gas conversion does not take place. The proposed gas conversion, therefore, threatens to lock the UK into unnecessary high-carbon power.’

Drax said: ‘The project could enable Drax to deliver more reliable and flexible, high-efficiency electricity generation at its power station in North Yorkshire — helping the UK to transition to net zero carbon emissions by 2050.’

In recent years, Drax has been trying to improve their green credentials, and in May they announced that it is to pilot the first bioenergy carbon capture storage (BECCS) project of its kind in Europe which could make the renewable electricity produced at its North Yorkshire power station carbon negative.

The technology means harmful gases are removed from the atmosphere at the same time as electricity is produced.

The demonstration project saw Drax partner with Leeds-based C-Capture who invested £400,000 in what could be the first of several pilot projects undertaken at Drax to deliver BECCS.

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