New Drax gas plant ‘significant’ threat to UK emissions targets, warn lawyers

A new gas plant in North Yorkshire would produce 75% of the emissions budget for the entire UK power sector, environment lawyers at ClientEarth have warned.

In their planning application for its Selby site, Drax said its proposal for four combined cycle gas turbines (CCGT) was warranted to replace its existing two coal-fired units ahead of the government’s proposed coal phase-out in 2025.

However, ClientEarth, who were invited to produce a formal assessment of the plans, 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.

ClientEarth climate accountability lawyer Sam Hunter Jones said: ‘Drax has failed to prove why adding so much new large-scale fossil fuel power is necessary given existing and planned capacity. It has also failed to assess the project’s full climate impact, at the precise time when the UK needs to rapidly decarbonise.

‘By failing to explain how this emissions-intensive gas project squares with the UK’s carbon targets and its Clean Growth Strategy, Drax is asking the public to face a carbon budget blowout, a huge stranded asset requiring propping up by the taxpayer, or a combination of the two.’

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 18GW — three times the government’s estimates.

Hunter Jones added: ‘The only way to avoid the project’s negative climate impacts would be to make its operation conditional on the use of carbon capture and storage technology — however, Drax is not content to wait until this technology is viable.’

Drax Power CEO Andy Koss told that the report must assume the ‘worse case’ outcome for its environmental impact, and they don’t expect the new units to run all the time.

‘On that basis, we have assumed that both generating units will run at close to full output, with an associated carbon footprint higher than would occur in real life,’ he added.

‘Our Repower project will deliver cost-effective, high efficiency, flexible gas power to the grid. The gas units will not run all the time – only when required, playing a vital role in supporting the system as more renewables come online and delivering significant carbon savings compared to coal or less efficient gas projects.’

Last May, Drax 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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